A Farewell To Hackaday’s Favorite Falcon 9 Booster

With the notable exception of the Space Shuttle, rockets and spacecraft have always been considered disposable. It’s a slow and expensive way to travel, akin to building a new airliner for every flight, but it was the easiest option. These vehicles have always represented the pinnacle of engineering and material science of their time, and just surviving the trip to space once was an incredible accomplishment. To have another go around would have been asking too much of the technology. Even looking back on the Space Shuttle program, there’s plenty of debate about whether or not the reusable design really paid off in the end.

So SpaceX’s ability to land, refurbish, and refly the first stage of their Falcon 9 booster is no small accomplishment. After demonstrating the idea was possible in 2017, the company made numerous changes to the latest iteration of the rocket with reusability in mind. Known as Block 5, this version of the Falcon 9 is designed to be more survivable and require minimal servicing between flights. The company says its cheaper and faster to reuse the Block 5 than it would be to build a new one for each flight, allowing the company to approach spaceflight more like commercial aviation.

Falcon 9 launch and landing streaks
Falcon 9 launch and landing streaks. (Source: SpaceX)

With a fleet of Block 5 boosters now in rotation, SpaceX has given them serial numbers not unlike an airplane’s tail number. It might not be the kind of thing the general public would normally be aware of, but these serial numbers have allowed a dedicated community of space aficionados to keep track of the missions each booster has flown.

Unfortunately the story of one of these rockets, officially referred to as “Cores” in SpaceX parlance, was recently cut short. Core B1056, returning from the Starlink 4 mission on February 17th, failed to land on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) Of Course I Still Love You and splashed down in the ocean. It’s still unclear what condition the booster was in after its soft landing in the water, but when the recovery ships returned to port empty handed, there was no question as to the fate of B1056.

From a purely business standpoint, the failure of any of SpaceX’s boosters means lost time and revenue. But in some ways B1056 had established itself as the vanguard of the fleet, managing to either set or break a number of records in its relatively short life. The destruction of the most thoroughly flight proven Block 5 booster is a stark reminder that there’s very little about spaceflight that could be called routine.

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Ghost Frame Shows People (and Cats) That Don’t Exist

[Dan]’s project from last year slipped past us until now, but his Ghost Frame is a great example of tying some modern hackable hardware together with online resources into a clean result, and we like the clear idea behind it. The Ghost Frame is so named because its purpose is literally to show pictures of people (and cats) that do not exist in the physical world.

This cat does not exist (thank goodness.) The computer doesn’t always get it right.

To make it all work, [Dan] used an Adafruit PyPortal as the guts of the device. It pulls images from ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com (which displays computer-assembled images of faces that do not represent actual living people) and displays them as though they were pictures in a digital photo frame. Formatting the image to show up nicely on the PyPortal’s 320 x 240 display took a little extra work; [Dan] solved that problem with a small PHP script to convert the image to a bitmap and scale it correctly in the process. The PyPortal makes fetching resources from the web simple, so this kind of fiddling didn’t present much of an obstacle to [Dan]’s artistic vision.

What about the cats? Well, it turns out that ThisCatDoesNotExist.com is also out there, and Ghost Frame can happily display computer-generated images of nonexistent cats as easily as it shows imaginary people. However, it does seem that the state of nonexistent cat generation is lagging somewhat behind that for people. The site usually gets it right, but results are occasionally (amusingly) bizarre as you can see here.

The PyPortal is perfect for this kind of project, and it can do more than just display static content. It has some GUI functionality baked in, as we saw showcased recently in this touchscreen Blackjack game.

Little Printer Dispenses Short Stories

We know how it happens. You buy a fancy new label printer, thinking this is the answer to your disorganized space, but soon entropy grabs the printer as well, and it becomes just another item in the pile. When you find such items later, though, they can spark ideas. The idea that struck [Eric Nichols] was to turn his diminutive thermal printer into a dedicated one for short stories.

Inspired by an article about a vending machine that dispenses stories selected by the reader’s time constraints, [Eric] took on the task of getting his Dymo LabelWriter 400 Turbo working in this new capacity. The first task was finding some continuous roll paper that would fit, because the official stock for this thing is all labels. He got lucky on the first try and a roll of 2 7/16″ receipt paper fit the bill perfectly.

The printer itself doesn’t have much brains; it prints bitmaps 672 bits wide, and as long as you care to make them. While the initial experiments succeeded in printing graphics, [Eric] needed a way to convert his stories to bitmapped text to send to the printer. The human-readable font file format known as BDF (glyph Bitmap Distribution Format) was a perfect fit, since a library to render it was readily available. On top of that, the open-source tool otf2bdf will convert a TrueType (TTF) font to BDF, completing his font-rendering chain.

[Eric] has these printers working with both Linux and windows, either one running on a PC where his software resides, and has it all well-documented on his site. With this in place, it’s simply a matter of coming up with the stories to print. We think it would be perfect for Hackaday dailies!

We’ve seen interesting hacks with disused printers before, like this ascii-art generating cartridge.