30 Days Of Terror: The Logistics Of Launching The James Webb Space Telescope

Back during the 2019 Superconference in Pasadena, I had the chance to go to Northrop Grumman’s Redondo Beach campus to get a look at the James Webb Space Telescope. There is the high-bay class 10,000+ cleanroom in building M8, my wife and I along with fellow space nerd Tom Nardi got a chance to look upon what is likely the most expensive single object ever made. The $10 billion dollar space observatory was undergoing what we thought were its final tests before being packaged up and sent on its way to its forever home at the L2 Lagrange point.

Sadly, thanks to technical difficulties and the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be another two years before JWST was actually ready to ship — not a new story for the project, Mike Szczys toured the same facility back in 2015. But the good news is that it finally has shipped, taking the very, very slow first steps on its journey to space.

Both the terrestrial leg of the trip and the trip through 1.5 million kilometers of space are fraught with peril, of a different kind, of course, but still with plenty of chances for mission-impacting events. Here’s a look at what the priceless and long-awaited observatory will face along the way, and how its minders will endure the “30 days of terror” that lie ahead.

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Hedgehog Gesture Sensor Built With Cheap Time-of-Flight Modules

Time-of-flight sensors used to be expensive obscurities, capable of measuring the travel time of photons themselves and often used for tracking purposes. However, the technology is cheaper now, such that [jean.perardel] has used TOF sensors to build a useful and affordable gesture-tracking system.

The system relies on four VL53L1X time of flight sensors, which have a 16×16 scanning array and communicate over the I2C bus. Controlling the show is an Arduino MKR1010, though the project should be achievable with a range of other microcontrollers, too.

The device is built into a cute hedgehog-like form factor, with an LCD screen acting as the face. It displays facial expressions which show how the system is interpreting and responding to gestures. It gives the project lots of personality, which makes using the system more fun. Gestures from the system can be used to send keystrokes over USB, control relays or servos, or even fire IR signals to control TVs and other hardware.

It actually seems like a useful gesture control interface, one that could become a useful part of a workstation setup. We’ve seen gesture controls put to other uses too, like controlling robot arms. Video after the break.

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Janksy Robot Paints Murals One Dot At A Time

[Stuff Made Here] has a new shop, with a huge blank wall. A blank white wall just wouldn’t do, so rather than paint the wall himself, he designed a robot to do it for him. (Video, embedded below.)

The result is Janksy. A huge machine made of metal, wood, and 3D printed parts. Janksy is an ingenious design in that it has two sets of X and Y axis.  A large, slow-moving system of rails and cables positions the robot roughly in the right area of the wall. From there a much smaller, but faster and more precise motion system makes the final moves.

The “business end” of Janksy is of course a paint sprayer; in this case a Harbor Freight model. The medium of choice is acrylic paint, as Janksy will be painting for several days, and didn’t want to gas himself with the volatile solvents of more traditional paints.

Janksy mainly sprays dots of paint. Up close you’ll only see the dots, but step back a bit and a full image takes shape. It’s a technique called Pointillism, which puts Janksy in the company of artists like Georges Seurat and
Vincent van Gogh.

While human artists mix colors to produce the hue they want, robots can’t easily do that. [Stuff Made Here] spends quite a bit of time explaining basic color theory, and how dots of cyan, magenta, and yellow will combine in the eye to produce colors – much the way a monitor uses pixels of red, green, and blue light.

After all this work, you might be wondering what [Stuff Made Here] would want on his wall. Well, let’s just say that he loves his wife, even though his pranks on here often elicit an exasperated glare. Watch the video after the break for the full story.

You don’t have to build a huge drawing robot though – we’ve seen some great plotters on a much smaller scale, including one that will play tic-tac-toe.

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