You Have About Four Months To Find A Lost Satellite

In the annals of technical achievement originating from the United Kingdom there lies a forgotten success story that should have led to greater things but instead became a dead-end even before it had happened. We’re referring of course to Prospero, a British satellite that holds the honour of being the only one to have been launched on board a British-developed satellite launch platform. On the 28th of October 1971 it was launched aboard a Black Arrow rocket from the Woomera launch site in Australia and successfully entered orbit to complete its mission. When it was launched the Black Arrow program had already been canceled by the British government, with the launch proceeding only because rocket and satellite were by then already on the pad.

A never flown Black Arrow rocket and the Prospero flight spare, in the Science Museum, London.
A never flown Black Arrow rocket and the Prospero flight spare, in the Science Museum, London.

So the Brits became the sixth nation to develop a satellite launch capability, and promptly canned it. Prospero was a success though and remains in orbit, and was even re-activated periodically as late as the 1990s. With its fiftieth anniversary approaching in October we think it’s worth looking for to mark the occasion, and so would like to remind you of its existence and the impending anniversary. If any community can find a lost satellite, hear its call if it is still transmitting anything, and maybe even wake it up, it’s you lot. Hackaday readers never cease to amaze us with their talents, and we know that among you will be people with what it takes to find Prospero.

To help you along your way there’s a lot of information about the satellite to be found online, including the details of an unsuccessful attempt to contact it a decade ago for the anniversary in 2011, and a real-time tracker to help you find its position. Maybe some of you have a decent enough telescope to take a snap of it as it passes over, but if a radio signal could be retrieved from it that would be particularly impressive. Watch out though, you might find yourself hearing an Orbcomm satellite on the same frequency.

So if any of you fancy firing up your SDRs and pointing an antenna skywards over the next few months, we’d like to hear about your progress. It’s possible that the craft may by now be incapable of life, but if anything can be found it’s worth a try.

This isn’t the first satellite rescue attempt documented here on Hackaday. A few years back we put out the call to rescue ICE/ISEE-3.

Gesture-Detecting Macro Keyboard Knows What You Want

[jakkra] bought a couple of capacitive touchpads from a Kickstarter a few years ago and recently got around to using them in a project. And what a project it is: this super macro pad combines two touchpads with a 6-pack of regular switches for a deluxe gesture-sensing input device.

Inside is an ESP32 running TensorFlow Lite to read in the gestures from the two touchpads. The pad at the top is a volume slider, and the square touchpad is the main input and is used in conjunction with the buttons to run AutoHotKey scripts within certain programs. [jakkra] can easily run git commands and more with a handful of simple gestures. The gestures all seem like natural choices to us: > for next media track, to push the current branch and to fetch and pull the current branch, s for git status, l for git log, and the one that sounds really useful to us — draw a C to get a notification that lists all the COM ports. One of the switches is dedicated to Bluetooth pairing and navigating menus on the OLED screen.

We love the combination of inputs here and think this looks great, especially with the double touchpad design. Be sure to check out the gesture demo gif after the break.

Gesture input seems well-suited to those who compute on the go, and a gesture glove feels like the perfect fit.

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Hackaday Links: June 13, 2021

When someone offers to write you a check for $5 billion for your company, it seems like a good idea to take it. But in the world of corporate acquisitions and mergers, that’s not always the case, as Altium proved this week when they rebuffed a A$38.50 per share offer from Autodesk. Altium Ltd., the Australian company whose flagship Altium Designer suite is used by PCB and electronic designers around the world, said that the Autodesk offer “significantly undervalues” Altium, despite the fact that it represents a 42% premium of the company’s share price at the end of last week. Altium’s rejection doesn’t close the door on ha deal with Autodesk, or any other comers who present a better offer, which means that whatever happens, changes are likely in the EDA world soon.

There were reports this week of a massive explosion and fire at a Chinese polysilicon plant — sort of. A number of cell phone videos have popped up on YouTube and elsewhere that purport to show the dramatic events unfolding at a plant in Xinjiang province, with one trade publication for the photovoltaic industry reporting that it happened at the Hoshine Silicon “997 siloxane” packing facility. They further reported that the fire was brought under control after about ten hours of effort by firefighters, and that the cause is under investigation. The odd thing is that we can’t find a single mention of the incident in any of the mainstream media outlets, even five full days after it purportedly happened. We’d have figured the media would have been all over this, and linking it to the ongoing semiconductor shortage, perhaps erroneously since the damage appears to be limited to organic silicone production as opposed to metallic silicon. But the company does supply something like 17% of the world’s supply of silicon metal, so anything that could potentially disrupt that should be pretty big news.

It’s always fun to see “one of our own” take a project from idea to product, and we like to celebrate such successes when they come along. And so it was great to see the battery-free bicycle tire pressure sensor that Hackaday.io user CaptMcAllister has been working on make it to the crowdfunding stage. The sensor is dubbed the PSIcle, and it attaches directly to the valve stem on a bike tire. The 5-gram sensor has an NFC chip, a MEMS pressure sensor, and a loop antenna. The neat thing about this is the injection molding process, which basically pots the electronics in EDPM while leaving a cavity for the air to reach the sensor. The whole thing is powered by the NFC radio in a smartphone, so you just hold your phone up to the sensor to get a reading. Check out the Kickstarter for more details, and congratulations to CaptMcAllister!

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Dale Heatherington last week. While the name might not ring a bell, the name of his business partner Dennis Hayes probably does, as together they founded Hayes Microcomputer Products, makers of the world’s first modems specifically for the personal computer market. Dale was the technical guru of the partnership, and it’s said that he’s the one who came up with the famous “AT-command set”. Heatherington only stayed with Hayes for seven years or so before taking his a $20 million share of the company and retiring, which of course meant more time and resources to devote to tinkering with everything from ham radio to battle bots. ATH0, Dale.

Sawdust Printer Goes Against The Grain By Working With Wood Waste

Wood-infused filament has been around for awhile now, and while it can be used to create some fairly impressive pieces, the finished product won’t fool the astute observer. For one thing, there’s no grain to it (not that every piece needs to show grain). For another, you can’t really throw it on a fire for emergency heating like you could with actual wood.

But a company called Desktop Metal has created a new additive manufacturing process for wood and paper waste called Forust (get it?) that gets a lot closer to the real thing. It might be an environmental savior if it catches on, though that depends on what it ends up being good for.

The company’s vision is to produce custom and luxury wood products — everything from sophisticated pencil cups to stunning furniture, and to take advantage of the nearly limitless geometry afforded by additive manufacturing. Forust uses the single-pass binder jetting method of 3D printing to lay down layers of sawdust and lignin and then squirt out some glue in between each one to hold them together.

Although Desktop Metal doesn’t mention a curing process for Forust in their press release, post-processing for solidity and longevity is the norm in binder jetting, which is usually done with ceramic or metal-based materials.

Let’s talk about those wood grains. Here’s what the press release says:

Digital grain is printed on every layer and parts can then be sanded, stained, polished, dyed, coated, and refinished in the same manner as traditionally-manufactured wood components. Software has the ability to digitally reproduce nearly any wood grain, including rosewood, ash, zebrano, ebony and mahogany, among others. Parts will also support a variety of wood stains at launch, including natural, oak, ash, and walnut.

Beauty and workability are one thing. But this will only be worthwhile if the pieces are strong. This is something that isn’t too important for pencil holders, but is paramount for furniture. Forust’s idea is to ultimately save the trees, but how are they going to get sawdust and lignin without the regular wood industry — they want to be circular and envision recycling of their goods at end-of-life into new goods

We wondered if the wood waste printer would ever become a thing. You know, there’s more than one way to print in sawdust — here’s a printer that stacks up layers of particle boards and carves them with a CNC.

Images via Forust

Translate Your CP/M Code To 8086, And Leave The 1970s Behind!

“Bring our home computing out of the 1970s and into the 1980s and beyond” is the irresistible promise made by the creator of 8088ify, a piece of software which translates CP/M executables from their 8080-based originals to assembler code that should run on an 8088 under MS/DOS. How can we resist such a futuristic promise here in 2021, even though the code wasn’t written to the sound of Donna Summer or the Village People back in the day but here in 2021 for PCjam, a celebration of the original IBM PC’s 40th anniversary.

As the writer of this code [ibara] points out that Intel intended the 8088 to be a ready upgrade path for the 8080, and designed its instruction set while not directly compatible, to make translation between the two a straightforward process. There was commercial software for the task at the time, but to this day there remained nothing with an open-source licence. It’s written in ANSI C for portability across platforms and compilers, and can even be compiled under CP/M itself.

PCjam is well worth a look, and if any of you fancy a go at writing for the earliest MS-DOS machines we’d like to suggest you create something for it. Meanwhile if you’d like to explore CP/M, you can run a bare metal emulator on the Raspberry Pi.

Header: Thomas Nguyen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Roller Skating, Wile E. Coyote-Style

They say you learn something new every day, and they’re usually right about that. Today’s tidbit is that just anybody (including [Ian Charnas]) can exchange money for jet engines, no questions asked. Scary, huh? So once [Ian] secured the cutest little engine, he took a poll regarding possible uses for it. Jetpack rollerskating won, that’s obvious enough. So let’s get into those details.

[Ian] procured this particular jet engine from an outfit called CRX Turbines. It tops out at 98,000 RPM and 30 kg (66 lbs.) of thrust. Essentially, he is pulsing the engine’s ECU with PWM from an Adafruit RadioFruit and controlling it with a pair of stripped drills that are just being used for their convenient grips and switches. One is wired as a dead man’s switch, and the other controls the throttle signal.

In order to run the thing and test the thrust a bit before strapping it on his back, [Ian] went about this the smart way and welded together a sliding stand. And he didn’t use just any old Jansport backpack, he welded together a frame and roll cage for the engine and attached it to a full-body harness. There’s also a heat shield to keep his backside from catching fire.

At first he tested the jet pack with shoes instead of skates to make sure it was going to behave as he predicted. Then it was time to bust out the roller skates. [Ian] achieved a top speed of 17 MPH before losing his balance, but he knew it could go faster, so he invited some roller derby skaters to try it out. One of them went over 30 MPH! Be sure to check it out in the build and demo video after the break.

If you’re at all familiar with [Ian]’s videos, you know that he usually raffles off the build and gives the money to charity. Well, not this time! That wouldn’t be prudent. Instead, he’s going to choose the best suggestion for what to attach it to, build it, and raffle that off. Hopefully, he stays away from airports with that thing on his back.

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Mickey’s Big Timer Makes Glider Competitions Better

There’s plenty of obscure sports in the world. Many of them could benefit from bespoke equipment like scoring displays, but are too obscure to support commercial efforts in this regard. Radio controlled glider competitions fit into just this category. This led a man named [Mickey] to develop what he calls Mickey’s Big Timer, to aid in the running of such events.

Glider events run outdoors in full sunlight, so the system uses big bright LED matrix displays to show its timing information. The system, built around the STM32 Discovery platform, uses several of the microcontroller boards to drive several displays as well as the main controller which handles timing. It also packs in an audio system for issuing instructions to competitors. It can also display pilot names as well as instructions such as when competitors should land at the end of a heat.

Some code is available on Github for those interested in how it all works. Word around the RC forums has it that [Mickey] built several systems, some of which ended up as far afield as New Zealand where they helped run many successful glider contests over the years.

We’ve seen plenty of scoreboard projects over the years; a little portable one could be useful for adding some spice to your pickup neighbourhood games. Video after the break.

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