Hacklet 34 – Satellite Projects

Space. The final frontier. Every tinkerer, hacker, and maker has dreamed of flying out of Earth’s atmosphere and into the heavens. Last year one hard-working team got a chance to fly a member to space by winning the Hackaday prize. For the rest of us, we can still experience some of that excitement by contacting satellites in orbit, or even sending a bit of our own hardware into space. This week’s Hacklet focuses on the best satellite projects on Hackaday.io!

basicSatWe start with [movax] and Your satellite devkit and launch. Chipsat is a tiny satellite which runs BASIC code. Yes, BASIC in space! Chipsats will be stacked into a launcher and sent off into space in groups. The idea is to eventually have them launched from the International Space Station. Power is provided by a small solar cell which charges up a pair of super capacitors. When the capacitors are charged, the satellite will run for a few seconds. Connectivity with the ground is via a 433 MHz link. Chipsat doesn’t just float in space, three coils give it the ability to control its attitude and rotation. Chipsat will sense the space around it with a magnetometer and a light sensor.



No satellite-themed Hacklet would be complete without [Pierros Papadeas] and his team’s work on SatNOGS – Global Network of Ground Stations. SatNOGS aims to create a global network of connected satellite ground stations. Think of it as a grass-roots version of NASA’s deep space network for satellites in earth orbit. This is more than just a great idea, as SatNOGS won the 2014 Hackaday Prize. You can check out our coverage of the project back in November, 2014. Since then, the SatNOGS team has been busy! They’ve just deployed the first SatNOGS V2 system above their hackerspace in Athens, Greece.

trsiNext up is TRSI PocketQub Satellite, another project by [movax]. TRSI is a satellite that sends data via images which can be viewed with a simple RTL-SDR stick using Hellschreiber mode. Hell mode means that images can be directly viewed in the waterfall display of whichever SDR application is running the receiver. Numbers or entire images snapped with TRSI’s cell phone style camera module can be encoded and displayed. Power is of course provided by solar cells, and the communications link will be on the coordinated 433 MHz band. The original TRSI hardware has actually morphed into a deployment machine for ChipSat, [morvax’s] other satellite project. He’s put the main TRSI program on hold until after the ChipSat campaign is complete.

pocketquRounding out our satellite special is [OzQube] with his project QubeCast Max. QubeCast is the first Australian version of the PocketQube PQ60 satellite form factor. After watching the success of $50Sat project, [OzQube] wanted to design a satellite of his own. Since he wanted to add sensors and send more data back to Earth than previous efforts, he needed a higher data rate than the current crop of satellites. This meant going to a high-powered radio. To achieve this, he’s using a  NiceRF RF4463F30 radio module. The module is based upon a Silicon Labs Si4463 RF ISM band chip, coupled with a power amplifier. The module outputs 1 watt, which is quite a bit of power for a tiny satellite!

Want more satellite goodness? Check out Hackaday.io’s freshly minted Satellite List.

The countdown is almost at 0, so that’s just about all the time we have for this episode of the Hacklet. See you next week.  Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

A Camera With Computer Vision

Computer vision is a tricky thing to stuff into a small package, but last year’s Hackaday Prize had an especially interesting project make it into the 50 top finalists. The OpenMV is a tiny camera module with a powerful microcontroller that will detect faces, take a time-lapse, record movies, and detect specific markers or colors. Like a lot of the great projects featured in last year’s Hackaday Prize, this one made it to Kickstarter and is, by far, the least expensive computer vision module available today.

[Ibrahim] began this project more than a year ago when he realized simple serial JPEG cameras were ludicrously expensive, and adding even simple machine vision tasks made the price climb even higher. Camera modules that go in low-end cell phones don’t cost that much, and high-power ARM microcontrollers are pretty cheap as well. The OpenMV project started, and now [Ibrahim] has a small board with a camera that runs Python and can be a master or slave to Arduinos or any other microcontroller board.

The design of the OpenMV is extraordinarily clever, able to serve as a simple camera module for a microcontroller project, or something that can do image processing and toggle a few pins according to logic at the same time. If you’ve ever wanted a camera that can track an object and control a pan/tilt servo setup by itself, here you go. It’s a very interesting accessory for robotics platforms, and surely something that could be used in a wide variety of projects.

PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter

Last year’s Hackaday Prize saw a lot of projects that were crying out to be Kickstarter Campaigns, but non has seen people throwing money at their screens quite like [Michael]’s PortableSDR. It’s a small, handheld, battery-powered shortwave software defined transceiver that can do just about everything with coverage up to 30MHz. It’s the ultimate apocalypse radio, a contender for to the throne now held by the ‘my first radio’ Baofeng, and now, finally, a campaign on Kickstarter.

The PortableSDR (now called the PSDR) started off as [Michael]’s ideal radio. It just so happened the Hackaday Prize gave him the impetus design, develop, and build the radio that would eventually land him third place in The Hackaday Prize.

The radio itself is completely self-contained and battery-powered, implementing a software defined radio on an STM32F4 processor. The design includes an LCD for the waterfall display, vector network analysis, and the ability to receive GPS.

In keeping with its ham heritage, [Michael] is offering the PSDR as a kit, with a PCB, enclosure, and all the parts you can’t get on Digikey available for a $250 pledge. Get those toaster reflow ovens warm, because there’s a lot of SMD parts in this build.

Continue reading “PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter”

We’re Hiring a Full-Time Hackaday Prize Mythical Creature

On occasion we advertise jobs for Hackaday but this time around is an exceptionally big deal. The Hackaday Prize was an amazing adventure this year, and we’re already hard at work on the plans for the 2015 Hackaday Prize. To realize our vision for the movement we need someone who will live and breathe THP. We need to find the Hackaday Prize Mythical Creature.

This person will hold in their mind all things Hackaday Prize. The HPMC will gallivant across the land (both digital and real) heralding the message of grass-roots, high-level hardware development. Obviously this involves recruiting highly skilled Hackers, Designers, and Engineers to compete for the prize. But the HPMC will also make sure that the amazing creations competing for the Prize get the widespread recognition they deserve.

There are a lot of nuts and bolts to the job. The HPMC will lead the planning of all live events. The many talents of the Hackaday and Supplyframe crews will be fully and efficiently tapped thanks to the legendary organizational and people skills wielded by the HPMC. Can you see why we’re calling this job candidate a Mythical Creature?

The point is, we are going to accomplish great things in 2015 and beyond. We need the perfect person to make sure it happens smoothly. Mythical Creatures, sharpen your CV’s and apply now.

The Hackaday Prize Judge’s Recap

With the Intertubes atwitter about the finalist – and winner – of the Hackaday Prize, it’s only fitting the rest of you get to hear what the judges thought about the finalists.

We had some amazing judges combing over these projects, ranging from people who have told Congress they could shut down the Internet at will to a Dutch guy that just figured out how to order a plain hamburger in the Munich train station. Really, really smart people. Here’s what they had to say about each project:

Continue reading “The Hackaday Prize Judge’s Recap”

SatNOGS Wins the 2014 Hackaday Prize

The Grand Prize winner of the 2014 Hackaday Prize is SatNOGs. The project is a thrilling example of the benefits of a connected world. It opens up the use of satellite data to a much wider range of humanity by providing plans to build satellite tracking stations, and a protocol and framework to share the satellite data with those that cannot afford, or lack the skills to build their own tracking station. The hardware itself is based on readily available materials, commodity electronics, and just a bit of 3D printing.

The awarding of the Grand Prize caps off six-months of productive competition which started in April with a first round reaching to more than 800 entries. Once the field had been narrowed and sent on to our judges the narrowed it to just 50 projects vying for a trip into space (the grand prize), industrial-grade 3D printer and milling machine, a trip to Akihabara electronics district in Japan, and team skydiving.

Congratulations to all 5 top winners


SatNOGS – Grand Prize


You already know this but such an accomplishment is well worth mentioning again!

ChipWhisperer – Second Prize


The ChipWhisperer is a hardware security testing platform that allows developers to explore side-band and glitch vulnerabilities in their hardware projects. The existing technologies for this type of testing are prohibitively expensive for most products. The availability of this tool plays a dual role of helping to inform developers of these potential attack vectors, and allowing them to do some level of testing for them.

PortableSDR – Third Prize


The form and function of the PortableSDR move forward both Software Defined Radio and Ham. The SDR aspect fully removes the need to use a computer. The wireless functions provided can be called a modernization of portable amateur radio hardware.

Open Source Science Tricorder – Fourth Prize


Inspired by the future-tech item found in the Star Trek franchise, the Open Source Science Tricorder uses currently available technology to produce a handheld collection of sensors. The design provides modularity so that the available sensors can be customized based on need. Equally importantly, the user interface gives meaning to the data being measured, and allows it to be uploaded, graphed, and otherwise manipulated on the Internet.

ramanPi – Fifth Prize


Raman Spectroscopy is used to help determine what molucules are found in test samples. One example would be determining possible contaminants in drinking water. These tools are expensive and the ramanPi project will mean more labs (at University or otherwise) as well as citizen scientists will be able to build their own spectrometer. One particularly interesting aspect of the project is the parametric 3D printer file used for mounting the machine’s optics. The use of this technique means that the design can easily be adapted for different types of lenses.

2015 Hackaday Prize


With the great success of these five projects, and the potential that Open Design has to move the world forward, we hope to host another round of The Hackaday Prize in 2015. When you’re done congratulating the winners in the comments below, let us know what you think the subject of the next challenge should be.

Thank you to our sponsor


Hackaday would like to thank the generosity of our sponsor, Supplyframe Inc., who supported the cost of all prizes. Supplyframe is Hackaday’s parent company and their values are closely aligned with our own.