Hackaday Links: February 13, 2022

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If you need evidence that our outwardly peaceful little neck of the solar system is actually a dangerous place, look no further than the 40 newly launched Starlink satellites that were just clobbered out of orbit. It seems that the SpaceX launch on February 3 was ill-timed, as it coincided with the arrival of energetic plasma from a solar storm that occurred a few days before. The coronal mass ejection followed an M-class flare on the Sun, which was aimed just right to hit just as the 49-satellite addition to the Starlink constellation was being released. This resulted in an expansion of the upper atmosphere sufficient to increase drag on the newborn satellites — up to 50% more drag than previous launches had encountered. Operators put the satellites into safe mode, but it appears that 40 of them have already met a fiery demise, or soon will. Space is a tough place to make a living.

In better space news, mirror alignment on the James Webb Space Telescope is proceeding according to schedule. The alignment process is complex, and it required operators to start gathering the first of many photons the telescope will see over the next couple of decades. The video below is a fascinating look at the alignment process, which is needed to move the 18 separate hexagonal mirror segments into a single optical surface. The fact that operators are able to attribute the individual spots to specific mirror segments is pretty cool, as is the accidental selfie Webb took during the process. For more on how they move the mirrors, check out [Zachary Tong]’s working model of the mirror actuators.


Seeing how the passage of time has seemingly lost all meaning lately, you’d be forgiven to be shocked to learn that it’s “only” been two years since we had anything in the way of real, in-person conferences to announce. But it looks like Hackers on Planet Earth will buck the trend, having announced the appropriately named “A New HOPE” for July. The conference will be held in its new venue on the St. John’s campus in Queens, New York. We talked about the change in venue way back in the Before Time — how little did we know then what was about to unfold. We’re just glad to be announcing an actual meatspace conference for a change, so be sure to get your proposals in.

While trolling IEEE Spectrum, we noticed that they’ve had a series of articles lately focused on some of the classic games from the Golden Age of Arcades. So far we’ve spotted articles on Space Invaders, Pong, and Battlezone. That last one was a bit surprising — it was never much of a factor in the arcades we favored in our youth, which tended to endless rows of Pac-Man machines. But according to the article, the US Army apparently contracted with Atari for a version of Battlezone to train its tank crews. That’s an interesting tidbit we didn’t know, and the whole series is full of great technical details on these classic games, and how the designers got so much done with so few resources. Of course we’ve done some of our own coverage on that front too.

It seems like big rigs aren’t the only delivery vehicles Canadian authorities are taking exception to these days. Delivery robots are also causing some problems, at least in Toronto, where the City Council adopted rules to keep these adorable pink robots and their cohorts off the sidewalks and bike paths. A group representing those with disabilities objected to sharing the sidewalk with these remotely piloted delivery bots, as apparently did users of the city’s bike lanes. Excluding these bots from either of these paths seems to present a problem to the business model of their operators. Perhaps they should invest in a fleet of vehicles that can operate safely on the roadways — oh, wait…

And finally, we have to admit to never really getting the point of drift racing, a pursuit that seems to center around turning horsepower into the slowest possible progression around a track, all while turning expensive tires into air pollution. Of course, like most motorsports it’s probably more exciting for the driver than for the audience, or at least it would be if they hadn’t built a robot car that can drift itself. Sure, they offer fancy talk about how they’re learning how to handle the extreme edge cases of driving, such as might be encountered while negotiating icy roads. But we know what the real agenda is here: not only do they want to put the drift racers out of business, they want to make sure no student driver ever has to experience what it means to “turn into the skid” again.


31 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: February 13, 2022

  1. Am I the only one who finds those terrible satellites burning up on reentry to be extremely cathartic? Light pollution in all its forms is terrible. Keep your satellite internet, I prefer fiber and the ability to see the stars.

        1. It gets worse. I live in a suburban area in the USA and (like ~70% of the USA) I have exactly one ISP available. They’re unreliable, the price goes up 20%/year, I get less than 50% of the advertised speeds, and that’s not going to change as long as ISPs remain exempt from antitrust regulation. When your livelihood depends on decent Internet and is your second largest living expense after housing, mildly inconveniencing amateur astronomers doesn’t sound so bad.

      1. You have fiber on a rural island?

        I live in the middle of a big city and they just started installing fiber in my neighborhood last week?

        I don’t think your experience is an indication of the global internet situation.

    1. Low orbits like these are only visible near sunrise and sunset, and are just as interesting to me to look at as the stars are. Unexpectedly seeing a Starlink train early one morning and counting all 60 satellites in it was an exciting and enjoyable experience for me.

  2. Starlink plan to have up to 12.000 satellites. Each one is weighting between 227 and 295kg (v0.9 to 1.5). So that will be a total weight of about 12000 x 250 = 3.000.000 kg.
    And expected lifespan of each one is only 5 years!
    So all these 3.000 tons of satellites will need to be replaced every 5 years, more or less like an average computer/server. And out of service ones will be deorbited (actively if propulsion stills working, or passively in about 5 more years if not).
    Does it look sustainable? Does it look reliable? Does it look safe?
    And also, what would we say if some company would plan to put 3.000 tons of electronic devices in a dump somwhere and burn them in the open, without any regard to pollution and recycling, and without having to pay anything for it?
    Yes, there are remote places where Internet access is difficult, but is it really a need to have high speed Internet access absolutely everywhere in the world?

    1. By the way, in comparison, ISS total weight is about 445 tons, and total lifespan is expected to be 32 years (end of service in 2030).
      Intelsat 23 telecommunication satelllite has an expected lifespan of 18 years and weights 2,7 tons.

    2. According to NASA about 45,000 kilograms of material falls on earth every day – for those who are hard of thinking, this is about 16 thousand tons every year. I’m not sure if this includes a guess about material which actually arrives on the surface but this is estimated to be only 40 odd tons a year. So, for the 12000 Starlink satellites with a lifespan of 5 years this equates to about 12 satellites per day falling terrifyingly out of the sky or, taking your figures, about 4 tons of satellite every day. Compared with the amount of waste electronics consumed by the provision of internet facilities on earth, (estimates vary but perhaps 4 million tons per year) this looks like a really good deal to me. Perhaps we need to find something a bit more relevant to moan about.

    3. If those numbers are correct, I’m sure launching thousands of sat s every year will bankrupt the company in no time flat. If the problem company will be gone in a few years, why bother hating on it?

      Lots of companies improperly disposes of hundreds of tons of waste every year, what’s your plan to stop it?

      1. Improper disposal waste (let alone creating excessive waste) on earth is bad enough. But the way public and private entities dispose of space junk-when they even bother to actually dispose of it at all-is totally reckless and endangers the entire world with horrible accidents. But there are ways to do the right thing those responsible care to do so. See below.

  3. Dan Maloney concludes here that it’s tough to make a living in space. But given the increasing likelihood of asteroid/earth collisions it’s already questionable whether however much of humanity will exist much longer. Just over the last two months another near collision has occurred-suppressed by the global news as usual until after the fly by. And how many EOL satellites and other space junk have been deliberately programmed to crash on earth, where we’ve so far been lucky enough to have at least most of them hit the ocean-and even luckier to hit far enough away from coastal communities? How wise is it to continue this practice versus equipping old satellites and other soon to be space junk with self destruct nuclear charges detonated once the birds are programmed to fly far enough from earth? And wasn’t it every technophile’s hero, Time Mag’s Man of the Year the great genius Musk who declared several years ago that for something like $60 million he could install an army of asteroid deflecting robots? Though hardly an original idea, at least if Musk actually did it the rest of the world could then assume responsibility afterwards for the negligible maintenance, monitoring and replacement costs. But am I wrong or has absolutely nothing of the kind happened yet-much less any other defense system implemented by NASA, USAF or any other national quasi-governmental, or private entity? So what else to conclude other than that much of humanity has a death wish?

    1. Are you a bot? Because that read like an AI written article trained on crackpot conspiracy theories.

      1) nukes in space violate treaties

      2) what happens when a nuke falls to earth by mistake?

      3) flying far enough from earth takes fuel, and the primary reason for sat decom is because they are “out of gas”

      4) if you could fly them far enough from earth, there’s no need to blow them up. Infact, it’s called a graveyard orbit and is a common practice.

  4. No, I’m not a bot. Now frequent near asteroid/earth collisions are documented facts in the mass media; hardly anything conspiratorial about that. Treaties, including those involving nuclear devices, can and have been negotiated and modified. Nothing is set in stone, least of all because numerous nations are creating millions of tons of increasingly hazardous space junk every year. Sats can be made more fuel efficient to fly far enough to then self destruct safely. Having them crash on earth is WAY more risky-as is this ever expanding space junk graveyard you advocate. inevitably, that junk will collide with earth and/or eventually a manned space vehicle.

    1. Yes, instead of having the satellites all in one nice neat package in a known orbit, or specifically designed to burn completely on reentry, let’s blow them up and scatter debris randomly everywhere. That’s totally good for the future of mankind in space and will cause absolutely zero problems!

      1. Needless to say nothing is perfect, least because by humanity’s very existence, huge and increasing numbers and actions more disruption, waste and so on are created. Second, the universe is essentially limitless, so space junk-if it’s sufficiently nuked and thus rendered small enough-will become essentially inconsequential environmentally. The only other options-as we all know though usually act as if we don’t-is to somehow recycle the junk or better yet minimize creating so much extraterrestrial stuff-which eventually becomes waste-in the first place.

    2. “creating millions of tons of increasingly hazardous space junk every year.”

      I was unaware that we spend greater than three trillion dollars every year on rocket launches alone.

      Oh, wait, we don’t, and we don’t create millions of tons of space junk each year.

      “Sats can be made more fuel efficient”

      Perfect, then they can stay operational much longer and not have to be replaced as often, this will save billions of dollars. Funny, I wonder why the companies paying the money didn’t think of this already?

      Oh, right, the laws of physics don’t just change when we want.

      Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t suggest we dispose of earth trash by throwing it into the sun.

      1. Regarding the growing hazards of mounting space junk, the issue is not, at least directly, how much is spent on rocket launches, nor did I quote any dollar amount. Besides, if what you mean by “we” only refers to the US, I’ve already noted that numerous nations have been launching rockets, and thus creating space junk for years, if not decades. So the cause of the problem is international and thus should be remedied by a globally managed solution.

        I’m hardly an expert on satellite design but like computer and other technologies owners of sats may decom them due to obsolescence and/or for other reasons, rather than fuel efficiency. In any case, sats could likely be equipped with an auxiliary fuel supply to be exclusively for distancing the sat far enough from earth prior to nuclear self-destruct once the sat’s EOL has been designated. Furthermore, the actual size of commercial sats has been decreasing https://dsm.forecastinternational.com/wordpress/2015/07/13/average-commercial-communications-satellite-launch-mass-declines-again/ , thus the amount of nuclear explosives sufficient to pulverize them will be less.

        The bottom line is that the laws of physics have no bearing on how many governments and corporations are responsible for creating space junk while doing nothing to make it less hazardous. But the laws of probability do say that it’s only a matter of time until someone’s home, business or loved ones get hit by space junk-to say nothing of asteroid collisions, such as Apophis, due to in 2029 when I will blow earth a kiss from an insanely hazardous 13K miles away. Again, how many close encounters have already happened over just the last 15 years?

        And as I DID point out earlier, AFAIK there are still absolutely NO public or private entities anywhere who have devised much less implemented any safe and practical solutions to these threats.

        Meanwhile, the space junk and asteroid clocks are ticking…….ticking……..ticking…….

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