Interview: Nacer Chahat Designs Antennas for Mars CubeSats

You have a shoe box sized computer that you want to use in a Mars fly by. How do you communicate with it? The answer is a very clever set of antennas. I got to sit down with Nacer Chahat, one of the engineers on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team responsible for antenna design on Mars Cube One (MarCO). Two of these CubeSats that will soon be used to help a lander reach Mars. We talked about the work that went into MarCO, the deployable radar antenna he’s worked on for the RainCube project, and the early progress on OMERA, the One Meter Reflectarray.

This is a fascinating discussion of dealing with a multitude of engineering challenges including lack of available space for the antenna components, and power and weight limitations. Check out the video interview to see how the people at JPL fit it all into this, and other tiny satellites, then join us below for more details.

Continue reading “Interview: Nacer Chahat Designs Antennas for Mars CubeSats”

CubeSat Challenge Winners Show Interesting Design Approaches

The winners are in for the GrabCad CubeSat Challenge, which asked designers to rethink the way that CubeSats are built. These tiny 10 cm square satellites are the hot thing in orbit, and the competition was looking for new ways to build and pack more into this tiny space. The winners offered some fascinating new approaches to building CubeSats, and some excellent design lessons that anyone can use.

The winner was FoldSat, by [Paolo Minetola]. His excellent design is a 3D printed folding case for a satellite that is built from just two 3D printed parts. The case can be snapped together and offers multiple ways to mount electronic components and sensors inside. [Paolo] estimates that it could save 40% time and 30% materials from existing CubeSat casings, which means more space inside and more time to build. It is an excellent example of how 3D printing can make things cheaper, easier and better, all at the same time.

Continue reading “CubeSat Challenge Winners Show Interesting Design Approaches”

PocketQubes: Even Smaller Than a CubeSat

Qube

Over one hundred CubeSats have been launched by hundreds of organizations and universities from around the globe. These have proven very useful in technology demonstration, Earth imaging, and other applications. There is, however, one large downside to the CubeSat platform. Even though it is designed to hitch a ride on launches of larger satellites, they’re still very expensive to develop and launch – somewhere between $60,000 and $125,000.

PocketQubes are a new design of satellite that bring the cost of personal satellites down to what Universities and amateur radio enthusiasts can actually afford. Instead of spending $125k on a 10cm cube CubeSat, the PocketQube, a 5cm cube, can be launched to a 700 km orbit for about $20,000.

Already, four PocketQubes are scheduled for launch in November to a 700km solar synchronous orbit, including $50SAT, a small radio transceiver put together by some ham guys, and The WREN a very impressive PocketQube with 3-axis reaction wheels and plasma thrusters.

Right now, the PocketQube kickstarter is only for aluminum structures that will become the skeleton of a small, 5cm cube satellite. There’s also the PocketQube Shop that provides a little more background on the project.

AMSAT MPPT Goes to Infinity and Beyond

AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, joined forces with students from Rochester Institute of Technology to create a MPPT attached to a Fox-1B CubeSat. It successfully launched into orbit on November 18th strapped to the back of a Delta II rocket. This analog MPPT, or Maximum Power Point Tracker, is used for optimizing the draw of a power cell in correspondence to the output of solar panels on the 10cm x 10cm satellite. In a nutshell, this works by matching the voltage of the two together. If you haven’t gotten a chance to play around with one of these first hand, Hackaday’s own [Elliot Williams] wrote up a thorough explanation of the glorious MPPT’s efficiency.

This little guy is currently hurtling along in an orbit every 90 minutes. During each of these elliptical trajectories, the satellite undergoes brutal heating and cooling cycles. The team calculated that this package will undergo a total of 29,200 orbits around Earth during its 5 year mission. This means that there are 29,200 tests for it to crack — quite literally — under pressure. To add another level of difficulty, the undergrad team didn’t have funding for automated board assembly. This meant that they had to hand solder over 400 micro components onto this board, adding additional human error to be accounted for in the likelihood of a failure. But so far, this puppy is going strong. This truly shows the struggles that can be overcome with a little elbow grease, hard work, and plain ‘ole good engineering.

Continue reading “AMSAT MPPT Goes to Infinity and Beyond”

Hackaday Prize Best Product Finalist: Shape Shifting Structures For Space

While [Elon Musk] and [Jeff Bezos] are working on getting us to Mars and the Moon, [Ronald Jaramillo] is working on building structures once we get there. To that end, he’s been developing the ZBeam, two rolls of links that zip together like a zipper to form a rigid beam.

ZBeam making, regolith munching machine
ZBeam making, regolith munching machine

Initially stored in a compact cube targeted to eventually fit in a CubeSat’s dimension’s, 100 mm x 100 mm x 100 mm, the beam emerges from within the cube and will be able to connect with other cubes to form rigid structures. His hope is that they can one day be made automatically from lunar or Martian regolith (loose surface dirt) munching machines. His current one has 160 mm sides and uses a servo hacked to turn continuously.

In his hackaday.io project logs he shows the trial and error he’s gone through to get to his current stage: experimenting with the links to form a more rigid beam, fine tuning the unreeling of the rolls of links to prevent jamming, adding a safety-ratchet-gear to the gearing to overcome speed issues, and more. He currently 3D prints as many connected sets of links as he can on his Prusa i3, and then manually connects sets together to make a longer chain, but he has his eye on the Printrbot Printrbelt for printing arbitrarily long chains in one piece.

You can see one pretty impressive iteration of the ZBeam in action in the video below and more is on his project page. In fact, the judges for the 2017 Hackaday Prize liked [Ronald]’s projects so much that they designated it as a Best Product finalist.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Best Product Finalist: Shape Shifting Structures For Space”

Hackaday Links: July 23, 2017

Hey, you know what’s happening right now? We’re wrapping up the third round of The Hackaday Prize. This challenge, Wheels, Wings, and Walkers, is dedicated to things that move. If it’s a robot, it qualifies, if it’s a plane, it qualifies, if it passes butter, it qualifies. There’s only a short time for you to get your entry in. Do it now. Superliminal advertising.

Speaking of the Hackaday Prize, this project would be a front-runner if only [Peter] would enter it in the competition. It’s one thing to have a cult; I have a cult and a petition to ‘stop’ me.

We were completely unaware of this project, but a few weeks ago, a cubesat was launched from Baikonur. This cubesat contains a gigantic mylar reflector, and once it’s deployed it will be the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon. I don’t know why we haven’t seen this in the press, but if you have any pictures of sightings, drop those in the comments.

In a mere two years, we’ll be looking at the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. The mission control center at Johnson Space Center — where these landings were commanded and controlled — is still around, and it’s not in the best shape. There’s a Kickstarter to restore the Apollo Mission Control Center to its former glory. For the consoles, this means restoring them to Apollo 15 operational configuration.

We’ve seen 3D printed remote control airplanes, and at this point, there’s nothing really exceptional about printing a wing. This user on imgur is going a different direction with 3D printed fiberglass molds. Basically, it’s a fuselage for a Mustang that is printed, glued together, with the inside sanded and coated in wax. Two layers (3 oz and 6 oz) fiberglass is laid down with West Systems epoxy. After a few days, the mold is cracked open and a fuselage appears. This looks great, and further refinements of the process can include vapor smoothing of the inside of the mold, a few tabs to make sure the mold halves don’t break when the part is released, and larger parts in general.

The Darknet’s Casefile will take you to the limit of your existing knowledge. Join them, to go on a quest to improve your technical abilities.

This week is Def Con. That means two things. First, we’re on a hardware hunt. If you’ve been dedicating the last few months to #badgelife or other artisanal electronics, we want to hear about it. Second, [Joe Kim] made a graphic of the Tindie dog wearing a Hackaday hoodie and it’s adorable. There are a limited number of stickers of our hacker dog.

Gigabyte launched a single board computer with an Intel Apollo Lake CPU, discrete memory and storage, and a mini PCIe slot. Of course, this is being incorrectly marketed as a ‘Raspberry Pi competitor’, but whatever.

Flying The First Open Source Satellite

The Libre Space Foundation is an organization dedicated to the development of libre space hardware. It was born from the SatNOGS project — the winners of the first Hackaday Prize — and now this foundation is in space. The Libre Space Foundation hitched a ride on the Orbital ATK launch yesterday, and right now their completely Open Source cube sat is on its way to the International Space Station.

The cube sat in question is UPSat, a 2U cubesat that is completely Open Source. Everything from the chassis to the firmware is completely Open, with all the source files hosted on GitHub.

UPSat is currently on its way to the International Space Station stowed in an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft. From here, the UPSat will be unloaded by members of the current ISS expedition and deployed with help from NanoRacks. Basically, the first Open Source satellite will be tossed overboard from the International Space Station. If you want to listen in on the data UPSat is beaming down, build a SatNOGS ground station and tune into 435.765 MHz. With a good antenna, you should be able to hear it when the ISS is in the sky, or a few times a week.

You can check out the launch of the Cygnus the UPSat is flying on in the video below. NASA also recorded a 360° video from the launch pad that unfortunately cuts out in the first few seconds after launch.

Continue reading “Flying The First Open Source Satellite”