Pinning Tails On Satellites To Help Prevent Space Junk

Low Earth orbit was already relatively crowded when only the big players were launching satellites, but as access to space has gotten cheaper, more and more pieces of hardware have started whizzing around overhead. SpaceX alone has launched nearly 1,800 individual satellites as part of its Starlink network since 2019, and could loft as many as 40,000 more in the coming decades. They aren’t alone, either. While their ambitions might not be nearly as grand, companies such as Amazon and Samsung have announced plans to create satellite “mega-constellations” of their own in the near future.

At least on paper, there’s plenty of room for everyone. But what about when things go wrong? Should a satellite fail and become unresponsive, it’s no longer able to maneuver its way out of close calls with other objects in orbit. This is an especially troubling scenario as not everything in orbit around the Earth has the ability to move itself in the first place. Should two of these uncontrollable objects find themselves on a collision course, there’s nothing we can do on the ground but watch and hope for the best. The resulting hypervelocity impact can send shrapnel and debris flying for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers in all three dimensions, creating an extremely hazardous situation for other vehicles.

One way to mitigate the problem is to design satellites in such a way that they will quickly reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up at the end of their mission. Ideally, the deorbit procedure could even activate automatically if the vehicle became unresponsive or suffered some serious malfunction. Naturally, to foster as wide adoption as possible, such a system would have to be cheap, lightweight, simple to integrate into arbitrary spacecraft designs, and as reliable as possible. A tall order, to be sure.

But perhaps not an impossible one. Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems recently announced it had successfully deployed a promising deorbiting device developed by Tethers Unlimited. Known as the Terminator Tape, the compact unit is designed to rapidly slow down an orbiting satellite by increasing the amount of drag it experiences in the wispy upper atmosphere.

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THICC GBA SP Mod Gets Easy Install Ahead Of Release

Back in August we covered a unique modification for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP which replaced the handheld’s rear panel with an expanded version that had enough internal volume for an upgraded battery, a Bluetooth audio transmitter, and support for both Qi wireless and USB-C charging. The downside was that getting the 10 mm 3D printed “backpack” installed wasn’t exactly the most user-friendly operation.

But today we’re happy to report that the dream team behind the so-called THICC BOI SP have not only made some huge improvements to the mod, but that they intend to release it as a commercial kit in the next few months. The trick to making this considerable upgrade a bit more forgiving is the use of a bespoke flat flex cable that easily allows the user to solder up all the necessary test points and connections, as well as a custom PCB that pulls together all the hardware required.

In the video below, [Tito] of Macho Nacho Productions goes over the latest version of the mod he’s been working on with [Kyle] and [Helder], and provides a complete step-by-step installation tutorial to give viewers an idea of what they’ll be in for once the kit goes on sale. While it’s still a fairly involved modification, the new design is surprisingly approachable. As we’ve seen with previous console modifications, the use of flat flex technology means the installation shouldn’t pose much of a challenge for anyone with soldering experience.

The flat flex cable allows for an exceptionally clean install.

Some may be put off by the fact that the replacement rear panel is even thicker this time around, but hopefully the unprecedented runtime made possible by the monstrous 4,500 mAh LiPo battery pack hiding inside the retrofit unit will help ease any discomfort (physical or otherwise) you may have from carrying around the chunkier case. Even with power-hungry accouterments like an aftermarket IPS display and a flash cart, the new battery can keep your SP running for nearly 20 hours. If you still haven’t beaten Metroid: Zero Mission by then, it’s time to take a break and reflect on your life anyway.

According to [Tito], the logistical challenges and considerable upfront costs involved in getting the new rear panels injection molded in ABS is the major roadblock holding the release of the kit back right now. The current prototypes, which appear to have been 3D printed in resin, simply don’t match the look and feel of the GBA SP’s original case well enough to be a viable option. A crowd funding campaign should get them over that initial hump, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for more updates as things move along towards production.

The previous version of this mod was impressive enough as a one-off project, but we’re excited to see the team taking the next steps towards making this compelling evolution of the GBA more widely available. It’s a fantastic example of what’s possible for small teams, or even individuals, when you leverage all the tools in the modern hardware hacking arsenal.

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Hackaday Podcast 135: Three Rocket Hacks, All The Game Boy Gates, And Depth Sounding From A Rowboat

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Tom Nardi go over the best stories and hacks from the previous week, covering everything from sidestepping rockets to homebrew OLED displays. We’ll cover an incredible attempt to really emulate the Nintendo Game Boy, low-cost injection molding of rubbery parts, a tube full of hypersonic shockwaves, and how a hacked depth finder and a rowboat can help chart those local rivers and lakes that usually don’t get any bathymetric love. Plus, even though he’s on vacation this week, Elliot has left us with a ruddy mysterious song to try and identify.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (52 MB)

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Teardown: Impassa SCW9057G-433 Alarm System

This series of monthly teardowns was started in early 2018 as an experiment, and since you fine folks keep reading them, I keep making them. But in truth, finding a new and interesting gadget every month can sometimes be a chore. Which is why I’m always so thankful when a reader actually sends something in that they’d like to see taken apart, as it absolves me from having to make the decision myself. Of course it also means I can’t be blamed if you don’t like it, so keep that in mind as well.

Coming our way from the tropical paradise of Eastern Pennsylvania, this month’s subject is an ADT branded Impassa SCW9057G-433 alarm system that was apparently pulled off the wall when our kind patron was moving house. As you might have guessed from the model number, this unit uses 433 MHz to communicate with various sensors and devices throughout the home, and also includes a 3G cellular connection that allows it to contact the alarm monitoring service even if the phone line has been cut.

Diagram of Impassa home security setup
The alarm can connect to a wide array of 433 MHz devices.

From how many of these are on eBay, and the research I’ve done on some home alarm system forums, it appears that you can actually pick one of these up on the second-hand market and spin your own whole-house alarm system without going through a monitoring company like ADT. The extensive documentation from Impassa covers how to wire and configure the device, and as long as the system isn’t locked when you get it, it seems like wiping the configuration and starting from scratch isn’t a problem.

If it’s possible to put together your own homebrew alarm system with one of these units at the core, then it seems the least we can do is take it apart and see what kind of potentially modifiable goodies are waiting under that shiny plastic exterior.

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Spooky USB Baby Types Out Messages From Beyond

You might think it’s a bit early for us to be running Halloween hacks, but don’t worry. While this microcontroller-equipped doll that mimics a USB keyboard to type out messages in the creepiest way possible might seem like a gag gift you’d get after attending somebody’s bone-chilling holiday bash, creator [Jonathan] actually put it together for a friend’s wedding. So not only is it an interesting piece of hacked together hardware, but it’s also a great reminder about the importance of having a wedding registry.

Even if this seems like a rather unusual wedding gift from an outsider’s perspective (for the record, pranks involving this “haunted doll” have been a running gag between them since their school days), we can’t help but be impressed with the way [Jonathan] implemented it. An ATtiny85-powered Digispark is hidden inside the doll, along with a simple USB 2.0 hub that supposedly eases some teething issues the diminutive development board has with newer USB 3.0 ports. Through the use of V-USB, this lets the baby type out messages once plugged into the recipient’s computer.

Soldering the Digispark to a cheap USB hub keeps newer computers happy.

Now he could have just stopped there, but [Jonathan] wanted this to be an interactive experience. Specifically, he wanted the baby to present the newlyweds with a personally test of sorts, and that meant taking user input. He came up with the clever user interface demonstrated in the video below, which responds to changes in the system’s “Caps Lock” state.

This platform-agnostic solution lets the user navigate the doll’s menu system by tapping a single key, although the Chromebook users out there will have to break out the Alt key to play along. It’s a neat trick for getting two-way communication going between a MCU and a computer without any client-side software, and worth filing away mentally for future non-haunted projects. It’s also worth checking out the effort [Jonathan] put into optimizing everything to fit into the chip’s paltry 6012 bytes of flash.

Incidentally, this is a good a time as any to remind readers that our Halloween Hackfest contest is live right now and taking entries until October 11th. If you’ve got any cursed bar mitzvah gifts you’ve been putting the finishing touches on, we’d love to see them.

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One Man’s Quest To Build A Baby Book With Brains

Regular readers will know that Hackaday generally steers clear of active crowdfunding campaigns. But occasionally we do run across a project that’s unique enough that we feel compelled to dust off our stamp of approval. Especially if the campaign has already blasted past its funding goal, and we don’t have to feel bad about getting you fine folks excited over vaporware.

It’s with these caveats in mind that we present to you Computer Engineering for Babies, by [Chase Roberts]. The product of five years of research and development, this board book utilizes an internal microcontroller to help illustrate the functions of boolean logic operations like AND, OR, and XOR in an engaging way. Intended for toddlers but suitable for curious minds of all ages, the book has already surpassed 500% of its funding goal on Kickstarter at the time of this writing with no signs of slowing down.

The electronics as seen from the rear of the book.

Technical details are light on the Kickstarter page to keep things simple, but [Chase] was happy to talk specifics when we reached out to him. He explained that the original plan was to use discreet components, with early prototypes simply routing the button through the gates specified on the given page. This worked, but wasn’t quite as robust a solution as he’d like. So eventually the decision was made to move the book over to the low-power ATmega328PB microcontroller and leverage the MiniCore project so the books could be programmed with the Arduino IDE.

Obviously battery life was a major concern with the project, as a book that would go dead after sitting on the shelf for a couple weeks simply wouldn’t do. To that end, [Chase] says his code makes extensive use of the Arduino LowPower library. Essentially the firmware wakes up the ATmega every 15 ms to see if a button has been pressed or the page turned, and updates the LED state accordingly. If no changes have been observed after roughly two minutes, the chip will go into a deep sleep and won’t wake up again until an interrupt has been fired by the yellow button being pressed. He says there are some edge cases where this setup might misbehave, but in general, the book should be able to run for about a year on a coin cell.

[Chase] tells us the biggest problem was finding a reliable way to determine which page the book was currently turned to. In fact, he expects to keep tinkering with this aspect of the design until the books actually ship. The current solution uses five phototransistors attached to the the MCU’s ADC pins, which receive progressively more light as fewer pages are laying on top of them. The first sensor is exposed when the second page of the book is opened, so for example, if three of the sensors are seeing elevated light levels the code would assume the user is on page four.

Opening to the last page exposes all five light sensors.

The books and PCBs are being manufactured separately, since as you might expect, finding a single company that had experience with both proved difficult. [Chase] plans on doing the final assembly and programming of each copy in-house with the help of family members; given how many have already been sold this early in the campaign, we hope he’s got a lot of cousins.

So what do you do with an Arduino-compatible book when Junior gets tired of it? That’s what we’re particularly interested in finding out. [Chase] says he’s open to releasing the firmware as an open source project after the dust settles from the Kickstarter campaign, which would give owners a base to build from should they want to roll their own custom firmware. Obviously the peripheral hardware of the book is fairly limited, but nothing is stopping you from hanging some sensors on the I2C bus or hijacking the unused GPIO pins.

If you end up teaching your copy of Computer Engineering for Babies some new tricks, we’ve love to hear about it.

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How To Get Good With Wood

It’s perhaps unsurprising that we don’t see much in the way of woodworking here at Hackaday; after all, this is a plastics and metal community if there ever was one. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never come across a situation where a dead tree needs to be cut or shaped to your will, so we appreciate [Eric Strebel] demonstrating some tips and best practices for working with this exceptionally versatile building material.

The first video assumes you’re a lumber neophyte, and goes over topics such as the different species of wood you’re likely to find at the hobby shop, proper sanding technique, and the differences between cutting with and against the grain. Some of the different cutting tools you can use are also covered, ranging from the humble hobby knife to the band saw. As always, [Eric] sprinkles the video with tips and tricks gained from his considerable professional experience, such as using some glue and a bit of sawdust to fill in any gaps left behind by an uneven joint.

In the second video, things start getting more advanced. [Eric] demonstrates how you can create custom laminates, and how wood can be permanently bent into arbitrary shapes with sufficient steam and clamping pressure. By combining these new techniques with the basic concepts covered in the first video, surprisingly complex shapes can be formed with minimal effort.

[Eric] previously put together a similar series of videos on working with acrylic, a material that’s arguably far more familiar to the Hackaday readership. But whatever material you use, the takeaway message from this series is clear: get the right tools, learn the techniques, and professional results are well within your reach.

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