Spy Tech: Stealing A Moon Probe

Ever hear of the Soviet Luna program? In the west, it was often called Lunik, if you heard about it at all. Luna was a series of unmanned moon probes launched between 1959 and 1976. There were at least 24 of them, and 15 were successful. Most of the failures were not reported or named. Luna craft have a number of firsts, but the one we are interested in is that it may have been the first space vehicle to be stolen — at least temporarily — in a cold war caper worthy of a James Bond novel.

Luna-1 Payload

Around 1960, the Soviet Union toured several countries with exhibits of their industrial and technological accomplishments. One of the items on display was the upper stage of a Luna vehicle with windows cut out to show the payload inside. At first, the CIA suspected the vehicle was just a model. But they wanted to be sure.

The story is laid out in a CIA document from 1967 that was only declassified in 1994. Even then, the document has a lot of redactions in it. The paper is sparse on how they managed it, but when the exhibit closed — somehow — a group of intelligence operatives wound up inside the exhibition hall alone for 24 hours.

What they found was surprising. While the engine and most of the avionics were gone, the vehicle was the real article. They took measurements and photos, hoping that analysis would reveal more about the vehicle’s performance characteristics.

Here’s where you start getting into the redacted material. The team was able to get something from the probe — probably machine tooling marks — but there wasn’t enough detail to identify where and how they were made. They decided to get a team specializing in this kind of analysis to examine it more closely.

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DIY 9V Battery

Volta’s pile — the first battery — was little more than silver and zinc discs separated by paper soaked in salt water. A classic classroom experiment is to build a pile from copper pennies, tin foil, and vinegar or lemon juice. [Omars2] has a different take on this old experiment. He creates a 9V battery using some zinc screws, copper wire, and salt water. There’s a video of the battery, below.

A syringe piston serves as a substrate for the cells, and each cell is just a screw with paper wrapped around it and then 35 turns of copper wire on top of that. The battery is soaked in salt water, although we suspect vinegar or lemon juice would work even better. Heating the electrolyte is also a good idea.

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Cheap RC Truck Mod Is Slightly Risky Fun

The world of RC can be neatly split into two separate groups: models and toys. The RC models are generally big, complex, and as you’d imagine, more expensive. On the other hand, the RC toys are cheap and readily available. While not as powerful or capable as their more expensive siblings, they can often be a lot of fun; especially since the lower costs means a crash doesn’t put too big of a ding into to your wallet.

With his latest mod, [PoppaFixIt] has attempted to bridge the gap between toy and model by sticking a considerably overpowered battery into a $10 RC truck from Amazon. He reports greatly improved performance from his hacked together truck, but anyone looking to replicate his work should understand the risks before attempting to hack up their own version.

The principle is pretty simple; the truck is designed to run on two AA batteries, providing 3 volts. But by swapping the AAs out for a 3.7 volt 1S LiPo of the type that’s used in small airplanes and quadcopters, you can get an instant boost in power. As a happy side effect, the LiPo batteries are also rechargeable and fairly cheap, so you won’t have to keep burning through alkaline AAs.

The mod itself is a basic job that only requires a few bucks in parts, and for which [PoppaFixIt] has helpfully provided Amazon links. Essentially you just crack open the truck, solder a JST connector pigtail to the positive and negative traces on the PCB, and then pop a hole in the roof to run the new battery wires out.

Right about now the RC purists are probably screaming obscenities at their displays, and not without reason. As fun as these supercharged little trucks are to drive, there are a number of real issues here which need to be mentioned.

First, while the motor will probably be alright with a bit higher voltage running through them, the gears won’t be liking it one bit. In fact, [PoppaFixIt] even mentions they shredded a few gears when they tried to take one off-road. The second issue is that since these vehicles were not designed with LiPo batteries in mind, there’s no low voltage cutoff to prevent over discharge. If you aren’t careful, a setup like this will cook those cute little batteries in short order. But hey, at least it’s all cheap.

If you are more interested in control than power, you may want to check out the previous hacks we’ve featured. Seems like these little RC trucks are the platform of choice for hackers who want to get stuff moving on the cheap.