Arduino Space Program

With the recently proposed cuts to NASA, our friends across the pond (in Northampton UK) decided to take action with a space program of their own… at least at a miniature scale. NortHACKton, a hackerspace in Northampton decided to host a rocketry day consisting of rockets powered by chemical reactions, pressurized water bottles, and even one that employed an Arduino controlled launch system, akin to a few we have seen in the past. It essentially consists of a countdown and automated ignition system. Schematics and source code are available for those adventurous enough to embark on missions of their own.

88 thoughts on “Arduino Space Program


  2. Or because, like me, you’re cheap and want to reuse your parts for another project.

    But I must say I was disappointed. I expected someone to be sending an Arduino into at least low earth orbit… apparently not. Oh well.

    For those of you who have a backyard big enough and no parents to restrict your access to explosive materials, though, why aren’t we in space yet?!

    Can I move that we create a Hack-a-Day In Space By 2015 committee? :P

  3. I think most people do arduino overkill because it is just easier that way, although you don’t need to have a cnc mill nor do you need to etch a circuit to make your own circuits, you can do it all on a breadboard, or you can get prototyping boards from radio shack and do it on that too…. so not having a cnc or the ability to etch is no excuse.

  4. @Xeracy: Stripboard or perfboard allows you to knock up a permanent circuit without needing to create your own PCB. For rapid prototyping there are breadboards, of course!

    Personally, I’m an advocate of using whatever’s most practical for a project, but keeping your mind open to alternative solutions. :-)

  5. I do belive I seen an Arduino on a balloon that\n had a camera and GPS, it looked to be in a VERY\n
    low orbit; maybe just really high up there.\n
    I don’t remember where I seen it though, and it\n
    may not have been an arduino either.

  6. The schematic is pretty good, but I would add a keylock safety switch in the Ignition loop as a backup. Not required, it’s just a nice touch to give who ever hooks up the igniter wires a nice warm fuzzy feeling (or could prevent a nice HOT burning feeling) Having lost a finger from a past rocketry experiment makes me think of things like this.

  7. Also, “Arduino” refers to an environment to program said MCU. Not everyone knows assembly or C, and the libraries are specifically targeted for easy hobbyist use with minimal fuss. Why lay out and solder a micro and associated supporting circuitry for a one off project your hackerspace decided to offer up if you can just pop a Decimilla off the shelf and slap on a few parts?

  8. WTF. You do NOT need a CNC mill nor do you even need etching materials to prototype such a simple circuit. Get some .100″ perf board, and prototype away. Apparently everyone has lost their imaginations, hence more than 50% of the “hacks” the HAD guys find and publish aren’t even hacks. No offense to the HAD guys, they don’t have much to pick from.

  9. I feel so low tech that my launching system uses a 555 timer, 7 segment led display, 12 V relays and 74LS90 BCD counter and 74LS45 BCD to 7 segment display. Oh well guess I better use that old mainframe next time.

    1. Low tech = Simplicity
      Simplicity = Good

      Or, in more general English, low tech is far less likely to fail and is usually more inexpensive to replicate. I, personally, am always looking for a more simple way to accomplish a set task. Because of this, I often use the Arduino and a couple breadboards for prototyping. I assume you would have a similar setup, also?

  10. “And we also didn’t all go nuts with AVR programming hardware a few years back and pick up an STK500 or AVRDragon.”

    My first AVR programmer consisted of 6 wires connected to the parallel port + avrdude.
    The reason you shouldn’t be using an arduino for one-off projects is because it rots your brain.

  11. @Smoker_Dave:
    Yeah, that was true a few years ago, when a hack meant spending time and brain power. Now we live in a world where everything is casual: games, hacks, people. Now you get achievements if you die in a game (and publish it to facebook) and you are a proud hacker if you make a 555 sound like a vuvuzela.
    Pfff…. I have an arduino Mega, but I’m not using it at all. I just hate that crappy development environment that can’t even include files properly. If you’re happy to develop your whole program in a single file, it’s ok. Else, you’re screwed! Bleh!

  12. First of all let me say “Woot, I made hackaday”

    Ok, so it isn’t a great hack. It’s not an amazing circuit and the software is 90% other peoples work, but the finished item is fun and will hopefully inspire others with it’s uber low bar.

    I like to think I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing it 9-5 for 10 years now. I use an arduino because when I come home from work the last thing I want to do is start again from scratch. I use a cheap mcu, I import the dot matrix library and all I have to do is wire up a relay. This all means I can knock this together in an evening leaving me time to actually get outside and launch some rockets.

  13. Speaking of needless complexity, I’m going to attempt to update my current diy launch box (two resistors, two switches, two status bulbs, and a big 9v batt) to the microcontroller age using the (ti) launchpad. Rather than an lcd display, I’ll just replace my flashlight bulbs with a few more leds, add a launch button, and a countdown sequence. If I can’t fit the supporting logic for THAT into 4k, then truly the Lord is telling me I’m too lame for small systems, and should stick to Perl and MATLAB.

  14. @therian:
    >It probably possible to send micro satellite from backyard using 2 part propulsion, first rise with balloons then start hobby rocket engine

    I’va also thought about something like this before.
    Something like a superpressure balloon with a launchpad for a rocket. I think you yould transport a reasonable payload with this method.

    >Can I move that we create a Hack-a-Day In Space By 2015 committee? :P

    I second that. :)

  15. Arduino launch platform – Yawn….

    Want to impress? launch a rocket with a arduino rover or lander. Launch that rocket, at apogee release the payload that will safely return to earth and deploy a lander that sends back USEABLE data + video or pictures or a rover.

    Launching hobby rockets is old hat. If we start getting builder making real progress by making mini landers, mini rovers, or how about at apogee deploy the payload that then fills a helium balloon to carry a microsattelite.

    How about a rocket with arduino guidance? no dumb fire rockets, get servos on the fins to control ascent.

    Any fool can build arduino launch platform… That’s stuff for 3rd graders.

  16. @fartface: I suspect they’d have deep problems with servo’ed fins. Here, at least, the cops call that kind of thing a “guided missile.”
    Jurisdictions that have spent 30-some years dealing with the IRA and co. can be really unsympathetic to some kinds of projects.

  17. M4CGYV3R, on a blogsite where a bunch of window licker’s sit on their hands and make comments on how they could do it better, when in fact they are themselves too stupid to even plug in a 9v battery correctly

  18. Gah. Such vitrol….

    Two distinct groups here:

    There are folks who love arduino(software and all) because it’s easy and it helps accomplish their goal(in this case a rocket launcher and countdown) faster. They know what they want done and want to get there with fast/minimal learning.


    There are folks who really love making/modifying stuff. It doesn’t matter what the goal of the hardware is, it’s the process of getting there that they love.

    Any shortcut of getting to the end just seems like a cop out.

    Are these groups compatible? Hardly. Can they tolerate each other? Likely, as they can learn something from each other.

    It’s comment threads like these though that make me just want to read hack-a-day from my RSS feed.

  19. THAT IS SO COOL! This is a great replacement for NASA. I’m glad those guys took action in response to the NASA budget cuts. Those budget cuts are irrelevant now that we have people launching soda bottle rockets with pressurized air.

  20. Just out of curiosity, do you guys follow UKRA guidelines at all?

    I’m just wondering where the kill switch is for when some poor person walks unwittingly into the launch area… That system should have the ability to kill the countdown at any point, yes?

  21. Okay why use and arduino. Because it is the new basic stamp.
    Really it is cheap and easy to do the project using an arduino or any number of other SBC. Guess what the pros often use SBCs for one offs because the idea is to build the project and not an SBC.
    The only complaint I have about the projects using the arduino is the lack of variety.
    Where are the Basic Stamp projects?
    Or the PropStick projects.,ProductName
    Or the cstamp projects?
    Or the BeagleBoard and or Gummstix projects?
    But other than the lack of variety I have no problems with it.

  22. “Whaddaya mean? I have piles of circuits that I’ve built, most of which contain MCU’s, I don’t really have a need for a model rocket launch system…”

    @ Jake, so post something, if you dont like the content here then change it instead of moaning about it

  23. @Tom
    We didn’t follow UKRA guidelines, I just had a quick look at the site but they didnt jump out at me (will look more laters). We did follow common sense guidelines though.

    The launch button is momentary and the countdown is aborted if the user lets go of the button (hence the abort animation in the video). As for a master kill switch we deemed that disconnecting the battery was a fairly reliable method.

  24. @Osgeld

    Most of my projects wouldn’t qualify as “hacks”, since they are all projects constructed from scratch. The stuff that I would call a “hack”, like reverse engineering my OTC Genisys automotive scan tool, is something that I’m not really ready to share yet, since as far as I can tell, no one else has done it.

    I’m not bashing peoples effort, I’m bashing the “arduino”. I like to see hardware creativity, something that the “arduino” eliminates.

    1. I have a otc genius scan tool, and have been trying to find anything I can about hacking or reverse engineering it. It uses an os, lynx, not sure how to really get into the guts of it

  25. Also, thinking about it, I think that I have a little resentment against projects that are really just software experiments. Most of the software guys I have worked with did not really understand the hardware that they were coding for, and they were stuck-up dicks about it too. Even the old timers, hardware guy starts telling them what they are doing wrong in software and they turn in to complete dicks. I think more than anything else, that is why I resent the “arduino”; I want to see REAL hacks (hardware creativity!) and not some software experiment.

  26. yea its amazing how many people start talking about how their stuff is not ready, held up by nda’s or whatever when I present that challenge to them, say whatever you want it just smell like BS to me

    Again we are not making these things for your entertainment, If you dont want to see as many arduino projects, quit sitting on your hands, quit licking the window, finish something, and post it

    that way we can all be an arse to you when we disaprove a method, part, or software choice

  27. @ MS Raynsford

    Cool, that’s good to know (the momentary push-button), the master kill switch wasn’t too necessary, but it’s always a good move to have some means of user intervention in these systems.

    The group I was with use to take a very serious stance with these sorts of projects, yet strangely allowed research into “gimballed(?)” rocket systems. It was pretty cool to see a small (but relatively heavy) rocket launch, and then hover in a set position, though I believe they were using specially designed fuel grains in order to achieve the thrust profile necessary to hover…

  28. @MSRaynsford
    The key is a little better. The person hooking up the wires has the key.
    Disconnecting the battery is reliable but you have a humans factors problem. What if someone decides to be helpful and sees the lose wire?
    People do the silliest things.

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