France Questions Russian Satellite with “Big Ears”

French Defense Minister Florence Parly took a page out of Little Red Riding Hood when she recently called out a Russian satellite for having “big ears”. While she stopped short of giving any concrete details, it was a rare and not terribly veiled accusation that Russia is using their Luch-Olymp spacecraft to perform orbital espionage.

Luch satellite conceptual drawing from NASA

At a speech in Toulouse, Parly was quoted as saying: “It got close. A bit too close. So close that one really could believe that it was trying to capture our communications.” and “this little Stars Wars didn’t happen a long time ago in a galaxy far away. It happened a year ago, 36,000 kilometers above our heads.”

The target of this potential act of space piracy is the Athena-Fidus satellite, a joint venture between France and Italy to provide secure communication for the military and emergency services of both countries. Launched in 2014, it provides 3 Gbit/s throughput via the Ka-band for mobile receivers on the ground and in drones.

This isn’t the first time Russia’s Luch class of vehicles has been the subject of scrutiny. In 2015 it was reported that one such craft maneuvered to within 10 kilometers of the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901 geostationary communications satellites, prompting classified meetings at the United States Defense Department. As geostationary satellites orbit the Earth at 3.07 km/s, a 10 km approach is exceptionally dangerous. Even a slight miscalculation could cause an impact within seconds.

Could Stealth Satellites Be In Our Future?

Much to the chagrin of shadowy spy agencies everywhere, this sort of orbital cat and mouse is easily detectable from the ground. When spy planes became easy to detect using radar, the next step was to evade that detection. Are we on a path to satellites that are transparent to radar?

Gregory Charvat, author of Small and Short-Range Radar Systems and occasional contributor here at Hackaday, tells us that building a stealth satellite is no easy task. “Just like how we had to re-invent the aircraft to make the first stealth aircraft, to make a stealth satellite one would have to fundamentally re-invent the satellite as we know it today.”

Likening it to the immense cost and effort it took to develop stealth aircraft like the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, Gregory says developing a satellite which could hide from radar would likely be more trouble than it’s worth for most applications. Space is already hard enough. “Maintaining that special shape that reflects radar away from your aircraft and including all of these essential peripherals is a big challenge” Gregory says, which results in “compromise and high maintenance costs.”

Beyond attempting to eavesdrop on communications, military insiders say that these close passes by Luch satellites could also be “dry-runs” for anti-satellite operations; either by using a directed energy weapon to disable the target spacecraft, or simply running into it. With events like these, and the commitment by the United States to establish a Space Force in the coming years, efforts to militarize space seem to be on the rise.

[via DefenseNews]

A Whole Other Kind Of Graphical Programming

Java isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. With all its boilerplate and overhead, you’re almost always better off with a proper IDE that handles everything under the hood for you. However, if you learn a new language, you don’t really want to be bothered setting up a clunky and complex IDE. If only you could use a simple, standard Windows program that you are most likely already familiar with. This wish led [RubbaBoy] to create the MSPaintIDE, a Java development environment that let’s you write your code in — yes — MS Paint.

If you’re thinking now that you will end up writing your program with MS Paint’s text tool and create a regular image file from it — then you are right. Once set up, MSPaintIDE will compile all your PNG source files into a regular Java JAR file. And yes, it has syntax highlighting and a dark theme. [RubbaBoy] uses a custom-made OCR to transform the image content into text files and wraps it all into few-button-click environment — including git integration. You can see a demonstration of it in the video after the break, and find the source code on GitHub.

One has to truly admire how far [RubbaBoy] went, considering the tongue-in-cheek nature of this project. And all joking aside, if you’re interested in OCR, this might just be simple enough to begin with. Or you could expand it with some text to speech functionality.
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Damaged Power Cord Repaired With Shop-Made Mold

We’ve likely all seen a power tool with a less-than-functional strain relief at one end of the power cord or the other. Fixing the plug end is easy, but at the tool end things are a little harder and often not worth the effort compared to the price of just replacing the tool. There’s no obsolescence like built-in obsolescence.

But in the land of Festo, that high-quality but exorbitantly priced brand of premium tools, the normal cost-benefit relationship of repairs is skewed. That’s what led [Mark Presling] to custom mold a new strain relief for a broken Festool cord. The dodgy tool is an orbital sander with Festool’s interchangeable “Plug It” type power cord, which could have been replaced for the princely sum of $65. Rather than suffer that disgrace, [Mark] built a mold for a new strain relief from two pieces of aluminum. The mold fits around the cord once it has been slathered with Sugru, a moldable adhesive compound. The video below shows the mold build, which has some interesting tips for the lathe, and the molding process itself. The Sugru was a little touchy about curing, but in the end the new strain relief looks almost like an original part.

Hats off to [Presser] for not taking the easy way out, and for showing off some techniques that could really help around the shop. We suppose the mold could have been 3D-printed rather than machined; after all, we’ve seen such molds before, and that 3D-printed dies can be robust enough to punch metal parts.

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Turning A Tiny FLIR Into An Action Cam With FPGAs

FLIR are making some really great miniature thermal cameras these days, designed for applications such as self-driving cars, and tools that help keep firefighters safe. That’s great and all, but these thermal cameras are so cool, you really just want to play with one. That’s what [greg] was thinking when he designed a PCB backpack that captures thermal images from a FLIR Boson and stores it on an SD card. It’s a thermal action cam, and an impressive bit of FPGA development, too.

The FLIR product in question is a Boson 640, an impressive little camera that records in 640×512 resolution, with a 60 Hz update rate. This one’s got the 95° field of view, giving it a very good specification in a very small footprint. This is a huge improvement over FLIR’s Tau camera, for which [greg] built a breakout board with Ethernet and DDR memory a few years ago. Once he found out about the Boson, he figured a backpack PCB for this camera would be possible and a great excuse to teach himself FPGAs with a hands-on project.

With an impressive ability to find the perfect part, [greg] sourced a Lattice iCE40 FPGA in an 8×8 mm package along with an 8 Mbit HyperRAM in a 6×8 package. This combination allows for all the chips to fit behind the Boson camera. Add in an microSD card slot and a few connectors and this breakout board is very close to being a commercial product, for whatever forward looking infrared needs you might have.

Using Motors As Encoders

If you have a brushless motor, you have some magnets, a bunch of coils arranged in a circle, and theoretically, all the parts you need to build a rotary encoder. A lot of people have used brushless or stepper motors as rotary encoders, but they all seem to do it by using the motor as a generator and looking at the phases and voltages. For their Hackaday Prize project, [besenyeim] is doing it differently: they’re using motors as coupled inductors, and it looks like this is a viable way to turn a motor into an encoder.

The experimental setup for this project is a Blue Pill microcontroller based on the STM32F103. This, combined with a set of half-bridges used to drive the motor, are really the only thing needed to both spin the motor and detect where the motor is. The circuit works by using six digital outputs to drive the high and low sided of the half-bridges, and three analog inputs used as feedback. The resulting waveform graph looks like three weird stairsteps that are out of phase with each other, and with the right processing, that’s enough to detect the position of the motor.

Right now, the project is aiming to send a command over serial to a microcontroller and have the motor spin to a specific position. No, it’s not a completely closed-loop control scheme for turning a motor, but it’s actually not that bad. Future work is going to turn these motors into haptic feedback controllers, although we’re sure there are a few Raspberry Pi robots out there that would love odometry in the motor. You can check out a video of this setup in action below.

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My Career As A Spammer, And Other Stories From The Sneakernet

A large hacker camp is in microcosm a city, it has all the services you might expect to find in a larger settlement in the wider world. There is a telecommunication system, shops, bars, a health centre, waste disposal services, a power grid, and at some camps, a postal system. At Electromagnetic Field, the postal system was provided by the Sneakernet, a select group of volunteers including your Hackaday scribe under the direction of the postmaster Julius ter Pelkwijk. I even had the fun of delivering some chopped pork and ham. (More on that later.) Continue reading “My Career As A Spammer, And Other Stories From The Sneakernet”

Packing 10 into 1: A Square Inch Dekatron Replacement

One of the things that always attracts our eye in old movies is how many kinds of displays you see on old gear both real and imaginary. Really old stuff usually had meters or circular recorders. But slightly newer movies often had some kind of exotic digital display with Nixes or Numitron tubes. One of the really exotic display devices was a Dekatron. While these are pretty rare, you can make a stand-in using modern LEDs and [Dave] did just that in an entry into our square inch competition.

These were gas-filled tubes with ten positions. You had to reset the tube and then the tube would visibly count pulses providing a visual indicator from zero to nine. Depending on the tube configuration, you could use them to count or to act as a divider. Those with neon fill looked sort of orange, although there were argon-based ones that had a purple glow. You can see what an older version of the board looks like in the video below or skip to the second video if you want to see the real ones in action.

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