Today, after 16 years of exemplary service, NASA will officially deactivate the Spitzer Space Telescope. Operating for over a decade beyond its designed service lifetime, the infrared observatory worked in tandem with the Hubble Space Telescope to reveal previously hidden details of known cosmic objects and helped expand our understanding of the universe. In later years, despite never being designed for the task, it became an invaluable tool in the study of planets outside our own solar system.
While there’s been no cataclysmic failure aboard the spacecraft, currently more than 260 million kilometers away from Earth, the years have certainly taken their toll on Spitzer. The craft’s various technical issues, combined with its ever-increasing distance, has made its continued operation cumbersome. Rather than running it to the point of outright failure, ground controllers have decided to quit while they still have the option to command the vehicle to go into hibernation mode. At its distance from the Earth there’s no danger of it becoming “space junk” in the traditional sense, but a rogue spacecraft transmitting randomly in deep space could become a nuisance for future observations.
From mapping weather patterns on a planet 190 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major to providing the first images of Saturn’s largest ring, it’s difficult to overstate the breadth of Spitzer’s discoveries. But these accomplishments are all the more impressive when you consider the mission’s storied history, from its tumultuous conception to the unique technical challenges of long-duration spaceflight.
We’ve all seen the two-color sequin fabrics you can “draw” on by dragging your finger over so the pieces flip to the other color. It’s fun stuff to play with, and very popular with the kids right now, but if you asked us if the material had any practical application we’d have said no. But that was before we saw this clever clock created by [Ekaggrat Singh Kalsi] that he calls Sequino.
Since a clock (at least one that only shows hours and minutes) doesn’t need to refresh very quickly, [Ekaggrat] thought that the sequin material could work as a display. Of course the tricky part is figuring out how to actually draw on it reliably. It can’t be done from the back, and since the sequins are plastic, you can’t use a magnet. The only way to do it is with a robotic “finger” and some very slick kinematics.
The most obvious feature of the Sequino is the belt drive that goes the length of its cylindrical shape. When the two motors connected to the belt are turning in the same direction, the pointer is moved left or right. But when the motors turn in opposite directions, the tension on the belt forces the pointer to extend and contact the sequins. It’s like an H-bot , but with the shortest ever Y axis. The front bar is moved up and down with rotating rings inside of the device. It will probably make a lot more sense once you watch the video of it in operation after the break.
The search for the ultimate hacker’s smart watch probably won’t end any time soon. [emeryth] has nominated another possible candidate in the form of the SMA-Q2, and has made a lot of progress in making it accessible.
Also known as the SMA-TIME, the watch is based around the popular NRF52832 Bluetooth SoC, with a colour memory LCD, accelerometer, and a heart rate sensor on the back. The main feature that makes it so easy to hack is the stock bootloader on the NRF52832 that works with generic Nordic upload tool, making firmware upgrades a breeze via a smart phone. Unfortunately the bootloader itself is locked, so it must be completely wiped to gain debugging access. The hardware configuration has also been well reverse engineered with all the details available.
[emeryth] has most of the basic features working with his custom firmware, although it’s still in the early stages. He designed a new watch face that includes weather updates and basic audio controls. The 3-bit display’s power consumption has also been reduced by only refreshing the necessary parts. The heart rate sensor outputs the raw waveforms, and it’s pretty accurate after a bit of FFT and filtering magic. Built-in tap and tilt detection is available on the accelerometer, which works well, but strangely doesn’t appear to have been used in the stock firmware.
Unfortunately the original enclosure design that used screws was dropped for glued version. It’s still possible to open without breaking anything, just a bit more difficult. [emeryth] Another hardware hacker named [BigCorvus] has even designed a completely new open-source main board with a NRF52840 module and heart rate sensor on a small flex PCB, with everything up on GitHub.