Fun While It Lasted, Falcon 9 Telemetry Now Encrypted

A few weeks back we brought word that Reddit users [derekcz] and [Xerbot] had managed to receive the 2232.5 MHz telemetry downlink from a Falcon 9 upper stage and pull out some interesting plain-text strings. With further software fiddling, the vehicle’s video streams were decoded, resulting in some absolutely breathtaking shots of the rocket and its payload from low Earth orbit.

Unfortunately, it looks like those heady days are now over, as [derekcz] reports the downlink from the latest Falcon 9 mission was nothing but intelligible noise. Since the hardware and software haven’t changed on his side, the only logical conclusion is that SpaceX wasn’t too happy about radio amateurs listening in on their rocket and decided to employ some form of encryption.

Since this data has apparently been broadcast out in the clear for nearly a decade before anyone on the ground noticed, it’s easy to see this as an overreaction. After all, what’s the harm in a few geeks with hacked together antennas getting a peek at a stack of Starlink satellites? [derekcz] even mused that allowing hobbyists to capture these space views might earn the company some positive buzz, something Elon Musk never seems to get enough of.

Some of the images [derekcz] was able to capture from the Falcon 9

On the other hand, we know that SpaceX is actively pursuing more lucrative national security launch contracts for both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. For these sensitive government payloads, the normal on-screen telemetry data and space views are omitted from the company’s official live streams. It seems likely the Pentagon would be very interested in finding out how civilians were able to obtain this information, and a guarantee from SpaceX that the link would be encrypted for all future flights could have helped smooth things over.

At the end of the post [derekcz] echos a sentiment we’ve been hearing from other amateur radio operators  recently, which is that pretty soon space may be off-limits for us civilians. As older weather satellites begin to fail and get replaced with newer and inevitably more complex models, the days of picking up satellite images with an RTL-SDR and a few lines of Python are likely numbered.

Hydraulics Made Simple

Corralling electrons is great and what most of us are pretty good at, but the best projects have some kind of interface to the real world. Often, that involves some sort of fluid such as water or air moving through pipes. If you don’t grasp hydraulics intuitively, [Practical Engineering] has a video you’ll enjoy. It explains how flow and pressure work in pipes.

Granted, not every project deals with piping, but plumbing, sprinkler systems, cooling systems, and even robotics often have elements of hydraulics. In addition, as the video points out, fluid flow in a pipe is very similar to electrical current flowing through wires.

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Shoot Above The Waves On This E-Foil Made From A Rifle Case

So you say you want to fly above the waves on an electric hydrofoil, but you don’t have the means to buy a commercial board. Or, you don’t have the time and skills needed to carve a board and outfit it with the motor and wing that let it glide above the water. Are you out of luck? Not if you follow this hackworthy e-foil build that uses a waterproof rifle case as the… hull? Board? Whatever, the floaty bit.

If you haven’t run across an e-foil before, prepare to suddenly need something you never knew existed. An e-foil is basically a surfboard with a powerful brushless motor mounted on a keel of sorts, fairly far below the waterline. Along with the motor is a hydrofoil to provide lift, enough to raise the board well out of the water as the board gains speed. They look like a lot of fun.

Most e-foils are built around what amounts to a surfboard, with compartments to house the battery, motor controller, and other electronics. [Frank] and [Julian] worked around the difficult surfboard build by just buying a waterproof rifle case. It may not be very hydrodynamic, but it’s about the right form factor, it already floats, and it has plenty of space for electronics. The link above has a lot of details on the build, which started with reinforcing the case with an aluminum endoskeleton, but at the end of the day, they only spent about 2,000€ on mostly off-the-shelf parts. The video below shows the rifle case’s maiden voyage; we were astonished to see how far and how quickly the power used by the motor drops when the rifle case leaves the water.

Compared to some e-foil builds we’ve seen, this one looks like a snap. Hats off to [Frank] and [Julian] for finding a way to make this yet another hobby we could afford but never find time for.

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Harmonic Drive Uses Compliant Mechanism To Slim Down

[Levi Janssen] has a secret: he doesn’t like harmonic drives. But rather than abandon the torque-amplifying transmission completely, he decided to see about improving them using 3D-printed compliant mechanisms.

For the uninitiated, harmonic drives, also known as strain-wave gears, are a compact, high-torque gearbox that has become popular with “robotic dog” makers and other roboticists. The idea is to have a rigid, internally-toothed outer ring nested around an externally-toothed, flexible cup. A wave generator rotates within the inside cup, stretching it so that it meshes with the outer ring. The two gears differ by only a couple of teeth, meaning that very high gear ratios can be achieved, which makes them great for the joints of robot legs.

[Levi]’s problem with the harmonic drive is that due to the depth of the flexible spline cup, compactness is not among its virtues. His idea is to couple the flex spline to the output of the drive through a flat spring, one that allows flexion as the wave generator rotates but transmits torque efficiently. The entire prototype is 3D-printed, except for the wave generator bearings and stepper motor, and put to the test.

As the video below shows after the excellent introduction to harmonic drives, the concept works, but it’s not without its limitations. Even lightly loaded, the drive made some unpleasant crunching sounds as the PLA springs gave out. We could easily see that being replaced with, say, a steel spring, either machined or cut on a water-jet machine. That might solve the most obvious problem and make [Levi]’s dream of a compact harmonic drive a reality. Of course, we have seen pretty compact strain-wave gears before.

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The Simplest Wind Turbine Is The Most Satisfying

Sometimes there’s a satisfaction to be found not in the more complex projects but the simplest ones. We’ve featured wind turbines of all types here at Hackaday over the years, but HowToLou’s one is probably one of the least sophisticated. That notwithstanding, it does its job admirably, and provides a handy reminder of a parts source many of us might have overlooked.

At its heart is a motor from an exercise treadmill, which appears to be quite a powerful DC motor so that’s a source worth noting away for any future projects. To that he attaches the blades from a desk fan, and when placed outdoors on a windy day it generates enough power to run an LED head torch and charge his phone.

Of course, this most basic of wind turbines is not displaying its true potential in the video below the break. Were it mounted in a high position free from ground based wind obstacles it would no doubt catch a lot more wind, and in particular were it hooked up to a charge controller and a battery it could provide a much more useful power source. Then you could start optimizing fan blade designs… But this is a fun project that isn’t trying to masquerade as anything sophisticated, and it still has that potential.

This isn’t the first such simple turbine we’ve brought you.

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Field Guide To Shipping Containers

In the 1950s, trucking magnate Malcom McLean changed the world when he got frustrated enough with the speed of trucking and traffic to start a commercial shipping company in order to move goods up and down the eastern seaboard a little faster. Within ten years, containers were standardized, and the first international container ship set sail in 1966. The cargo? Whisky for the U.S. and guns for Europe. What was once a slow and unreliable method of moving all kinds of whatever in barrels, bags, and boxes became a streamlined operation — one that now moves millions of identical containers full of unfathomable miscellany each year.

When I started writing this, there was a container ship stuck in the Suez canal that had been blocking it for days. Just like that, a vital passage became completely clogged, halting the shipping schedule of everything from oil and weapons to ESP8266 boards and high-waist jeans. The incident really highlights the fragility of the whole intermodal system and makes us wonder if anything will change.

A rainbow of dry storage containers. Image via xChange

Setting the Standard

We are all used to seeing the standard shipping container that’s either a 10′, 20′, or 40′ long box made of steel or aluminum with doors on one end. These are by far the most common type, and are probably what come to mind whenever shipping containers are mentioned.

These are called dry storage containers, and per ISO container standards, they are all 8′ wide and 8′ 6″ tall. There are also ‘high cube’ containers that are a foot taller, but otherwise share the same dimensions. Many of these containers end up as some type of housing, either as stylish studios, post-disaster survivalist shelters, or construction site offices. As the pandemic wears on, they have become so much in demand that prices have surged in the last few months.

Although Malcom McLean did not invent container shipping, the strict containerization standards that followed in his wake prevent issues during stacking, shipping, and storing, and allow any container to be handled safely at any port in the world, or load onto any rail car with ease. Every bit of the container is standardized, from the dimensions to the way the container’s information is displayed on the end. At most, the difference between any two otherwise identical containers is the number, the paint job, and maybe a few millimeters in one dimension.

Standard as they may be, these containers don’t work for every type of cargo. There are quite a few more types of shipping containers out there that serve different needs. Let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

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Diving Into The Details Of Keyboard Interfaces At The Gate-Level

Never doubt the value of a good teacher. Even if you know — or think you know — the material being presented, a good teacher can open your eyes to new ways of looking at things that will pay dividends you never expected.

That’s the feeling we got while watching [Ben Eater]’s latest video on building a keyboard interface (embedded below) for his breadboard 6502 computer. On the face of it, getting a keyboard to talk to a computer should be a simple job. [Ben] had previously looked at the serial protocol used by the old PS/2 keyboard and even built a wildly complex circuit out of discrete shift register chips to visualize the data being sent by the keyboard. The video below continues that work, this time concentrating on using the keyboard with his 6502 breadboard computer.

After some instructive preliminaries on interrupt programming, [Ben] dives into the logic-level details of teasing useful signals from the keyboard. His signal processing starts with some inverters and an RC network to turn multiple clock pulses into one logic level transition. Walking through this circuit step by step was the really interesting bit; even if you know that the answer is eventually going to be “Schmitt trigger,” getting to that point was really instructive.

Of course, what [Ben]’s videos mainly accomplish is making us want to follow along with him and build a breadboard computer of our own. From a low-rez VGA card to a reliable UART, following along with his discrete chip builds is always educational.

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