Credit Card Sized Spacecraft Poised to Sail to Alpha Centauri

As a space-faring species, we’ve done a fair job of exploring and exploiting our local neighborhood. We’re pretty good at putting people and machines into orbit, but our galactic-scale signature is pretty tiny. Our radio signals are no more than 100 light-years away, and our farthest physical artifact isn’t even a light-day away from us 40 years after it launched.

Clearly we need to do a better job of getting out there, and that’s the goal of Breakthrough Initiatives’ Starshot program, which aims to launch a nano-spacecraft to Alpha Centauri and get it there fast. The program aims to build solar-powered credit card-sized spacecraft with sensors, cameras, communications, and even MEMS thrusters for attitude control. Motive power will come from solar sails catching laser light shined onto it from Earth, eventually accelerating the craft to 20% of the speed of light and reaching its destination within a generation.

The thought that we could start spreading ourselves out into the galaxy within the lifespan of most of the people on Earth is intoxicating. Sure, a wafer of silicon is a far cry from a sleek starship with powerful warp engines and all the finest appointments, or a gritty star freighter that can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But the laws of physics and the limits of engineering conspire to keep us mostly stuck at the bottom of a deep gravity well, and if this means sending fleets of nanobots across the galaxy in our stead, so be it.

And no matter what form our first galactic spacecraft take, you can bet that the Deep Space Network will be supporting the mission. For now, you can listen in on the program’s test satellites currently in orbit if you tune to 437.240 MHz.

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Embiggen your Eclipse 2017 Experience with a Sun Funnel

As exciting as Eclipse 2017 is going to be this Monday, for some folks it might appear a bit — underwhelming. Our star only occupies about half a degree of the sky, and looking at the partial phase with eclipse glasses might leave you yearning for a bigger image. If that’s you, you’ll need to build a sun funnel for super-sized eclipse fun.

[Grady] at Practical Engineering is not going to be lucky enough to be within the path of totality, but he is going to be watching the eclipse with a bunch of school kids. Rather than just outfitting his telescope with a filter and having the kids queue up for a quick peek, he built what amounts to a projection screen for the telescope’s eyepiece. It’s just a long funnel, and while [Grady] chose aluminum and rivets, almost any light, stiff material will do. He provides a formula for figuring out how long the funnel needs to be for your scope, along with plans for laying out the funnel. We have to take exception with his choice of screen material — it seems like the texture of the translucent shower curtain might interfere with the image a bit. But still, the results look pretty good in the video below.

Eclipse 2017 is almost here! How are you planning to enjoy this celestial alignment? By proving Einstein right? By studying radio propagation changes? Or just by wearing a box on your head? Sound off in the comments.

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It’s an Angle Grinder! No, it’s a Floor Sander!

Faced with the potentially arduous task of sanding a wood floor, what would you do? Hire a pro? Rent the proper tools and do it yourself? Perhaps even shell out big bucks to buy professional grade tools? Or would you root around in your junk pile and slap together a quick and dirty floor sander from an old angle grinder?

That’s what [Donn DIY] did when looking at the wide expanse of fresh floorboards in his new sauna. Never one to take the easy way out, and apparently with a thing for angled gear boxes, [Donn DIY] took the guts out of a burnt-out angle grinder for his impromptu floor sander. A drill attached to the old motor rotor provides the spin, and a couple of pieces of scrap wood make the platen. Sandpaper strips are clamped between the discs, and as seen in the video below, the whole contraption does an admirable job.

We’ve seen lots of angle grinder hacks before, some useful, some silly. This one gets the job done and is a nice quick hack that speaks to the value of a well-stocked junk pile.

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Catch the Eclipse with a Wearable Pinhole Camera

You say you didn’t have enough warning to order eclipse glasses, and now they’re too expensive to buy? Or maybe you did order some but they ended up being those retina-combusting knock-offs, and now you’ve got nothing to protect you during the partial phase of Monday’s eclipse? Don’t dump a ton of money on unobtainium glasses — just stick your head in a cardboard box.

You may end up looking like a Box Troll with the aptly named [audreyobscura]’s box on your head, but it really is a safe and effective way of watching the eclipse, or for gazing at our star anytime for that matter. It’s nothing more than a large pinhole camera, with a tiny hole in a scrap of aluminum soda can acting as an aperture. The pinhole in one end of a box casts a perfect image of the sun on a paper screen at the other end of the box. A hole for your head with a proper gasket around your neck — maybe the neck of an old T-shirt would be a bit more comfortable and light tight? — and you’re ready for the show. The bigger the box, the bigger (and dimmer) the image will be, so you’ll want to cruise the local home center for long boxes. Because walking around with a water heater box on your head is totally cool.

Really, though, Hackaday readers can’t say they didn’t know this was coming. We started covering this in January, we’ve got hundreds of eclipse meetups across the country, and we’ve even covered some citizen science opportunities you can partake in on Eclipse Day. If you don’t have your head in a box, that is.

Thanks to [Roger Guess] for the idea on this one.

Fridge Compressor to 2-Stroke Engine: JB Weld for the Win

We like this one because it has a real Junkyard Wars feel to it: turning a cast-off fridge compressor into a two-stroke internal combustion engine. [Makerj101] is doing this with tooling no more complicated than a hacksaw and a hand drill. And JB Weld — lots and lots of JB Weld.

[Makerj101]’s video series takes us through his entire conversion process. Despite the outward similarity between compressors and engines, there are enough crucial differences to make the conversion challenging. A scheme for controlling intake and exhaust had to be implemented, the crankcase needed to be sealed, and a cylinder head with a spark plug needed to be fabricated. All of these steps would have been trivial in a machine shop with mill and lathe, but [Makerj101] chose the hard way. An old CPU heat sink serves as a cylinder head, copper wire forms a head gasket and spacer to decrease the compression ratio, and the old motor rotor serves as a flywheel. JB Weld is slathered everywhere, and to good effect as the test run in the video below shows.

Think you recognize [Makerj101]? You probably do, since we featured his previous machine shop-less engine build. This guy sure gets his money’s worth out of a tube of JB Weld.

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Eclipse 2017: Was Einstein Right?

While most people who make the trek to the path of totality for the Great American Eclipse next week will fix their gazes skyward as the heavenly spectacle unfolds, we suspect many will attempt to post a duck-face selfie with the eclipsed sun in the background. But at least one man will be feverishly tending to an experiment.

On a lonely hilltop in Wyoming, Dr. Don Bruns will be attempting to replicate a famous experiment. If he succeeds, not only will he have pulled off something that’s only been done twice before, he’ll provide yet more evidence that Einstein was right.

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Pouring 1200° Tea: Foundry in a Fire Extinguisher

Let’s face it — the design of most home foundries leaves something to be desired. Most foundries are great at melting metal, but when it comes to pouring the melt, awkward handling can easily lead to horrific results. That’s why we appreciate the thought that went into this electric melting pot foundry.

Sure, electric foundries lack some of the sex-appeal of gas- or even charcoal-fueled foundries, but by eschewing the open flames and shooting sparks, [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] was able to integrate the crucible into the foundry body and create what looks for all the world like a Thermos bottle for molten aluminum.

The body is a decapitated fire extinguisher, while the crucible appears to just be a length of steel pipe. An electric stove heating element is wrapped around the crucible, PID control of which is taken care of by an external controller and solid state relay. Insulated with Pearlite and provided with a handle, pours are now as safe as making a nice cup of 1200° tea.

You’ll perhaps recall that [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] has a thing for electric foundries, although we have to say the fit and finish of the current work far exceeds his previous quick-and-dirty build using an old electric stove.

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