Lessons Learned From A CubeSat Postmortem

On the 3rd of June 2019, a 1U CubeSat developed by students of the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków was released from the International Space Station. Within a few hours it was clear something was wrong, and by July 30th, the satellite was barely functional. A number of problems contributed to the gradual degradation of the KRAKsat spacecraft, which the team has thoroughly documented in a recently released paper.

We all know, at least in a general sense, that building and operating a spacecraft is an exceptionally difficult task on a technical level. But reading through the 20-pages of “KRAKsat Lessons Learned” gives you practical examples of just how many things can go wrong.

KRAKsat being released from the ISS

It all started with a steadily decreasing battery voltage. The voltage was dropping slowly enough that the team knew the solar panels were doing something, but unfortunately the KRAKsat didn’t have a way of reporting their output. This made it difficult to diagnose the energy deficit, but the team believes the issue may have been that the tumbling of the spacecraft meant the panels weren’t exposed to the amount of direct sunlight they had anticipated.

This slow energy drain continued until the voltage dropped to the point that the power supply shut down, and that’s were things really started going south. Once the satellite shut down the batteries were able to start charging back up, which normally would have been a good thing. But unfortunately the KRAKsat had no mechanism to remain powered down once the voltage climbed back above the shutoff threshold. This caused the satellite to enter into and loop where it would reboot itself as many as 150 times per orbit (approximately 90 minutes).

The paper then goes into a laundry list of other problems that contributed to KRAKsat’s failure. For example, the satellite had redundant radios onboard, but the software on them wasn’t identical. When they needed to switch over to the secondary radio, they found that a glitch in its software meant it was unable to access some portions of the onboard flash storage. The team also identified the lack of a filesystem on the flash storage as another stumbling block; having to pull things out using a pointer and the specific memory address was a cumbersome and time consuming task made all the more difficult by the spacecraft’s deteriorating condition.

Of course, building a satellite that was able to operate for a couple weeks is still an impressive achievement for a student team. As we’ve seen recently, even the pros can run into some serious technical issues once the spacecraft leaves the lab and is operating on its own.

[Thanks to ppkt for the tip.]

Open Laptop Soon To Be Open For Business

How better to work on Open Source projects than to use a Libre computing device? But that’s a hard goal to accomplish. If you’re using a desktop computer, Libre software is easily achievable, though keeping your entire software stack free of closed source binary blobs might require a little extra work. But if you want a laptop, your options are few indeed. Lucky for us, there may be another device in the mix soon, because [Lukas Hartmann] has just about finalized the MNT Reform.

Since we started eagerly watching the Reform a couple years ago the hardware world has kept turning, and the Reform has improved accordingly. The i.MX6 series CPU is looking a little peaky now that it’s approaching end of life, and the device has switched to a considerably more capable – but no less free – i.MX8M paired with 4 GB of DDR4 on a SODIMM-shaped System-On-Module. This particular SOM is notable because the manufacturer freely provides the module schematics, making it easy to upgrade or replace in the future. The screen has been bumped up to a 12.5″ 1080p panel and steps have been taken to make sure it can be driven without blobs in the graphics pipeline.

If you’re worried that the chassis of the laptop may have been left to wither while the goodies inside got all the attention, there’s no reason for concern. Both have seen substantial improvement. The keyboard now uses the Kailh Choc ultra low profile mechanical switches for great feel in a small package, while the body itself is milled out of aluminum in five pieces. It’s printable as well, if you want to go that route. All in all, the Reform represents a heroic amount of work and we’re extremely impressed with how far the design has come.

Of course if any of the above piqued your interest full electrical, mechanical and software sources (spread across a few repos) are available for your perusal; follow the links in the blog post for pointers to follow. We’re thrilled to see how production ready the Reform is looking and can’t wait to hear user reports as they make their way into to the wild!

Via [Brad Linder] at Liliputing.

Who Invented The Mouse? Are You Sure?

If you ask most people who invented the mouse, they won’t know. Those that do know, will say that Doug Englebart did. In 1964 he had a box with two wheels that worked like a modern mouse as part of his work at Stanford Research Institute. There is a famous demo video from 1968 of him showing off what looks a lot like an old Mcintosh computer. Turns out, two other people may have an earlier claim to a mouse — or, at least, a trackball. So why did you never hear about those?

The UK Mouse

Ralph Benjamin worked for Britain’s Royal Navy, developing radar tracking systems for warships. Right after World War II, Ralph was working on the Comprehensive Display System — a way for ships to monitor attacking aircraft on a grid. They used a “ball tracker.” Unlike Engelbart’s mouse, it used a metallic ball riding on rubber-coated wheels. This is more like a modern non-optical mouse, although the ball tracker had you slide your hand across the ball instead of the other way around. Sort of a trackball arrangement.

Continue reading “Who Invented The Mouse? Are You Sure?”

A Behind The Scenes Look At Small Scale Production

Back in 2013, [Karl Lautman] successfully got his kinetic sculpture Primer funded on Kickstarter. As the name implies, you press the big red button on the front of the device, and the mechanical counter at the top will click over to a new prime number for your viewing pleasure. Not exactly a practical gadget, but it does look pretty slick.

These days you can still by your very own Primer from [Karl], but he tells us that the sales aren’t exactly putting food on the table. At this point, he considers it more of a self-financing hobby. To illustrate just what goes into the creation of one of these beauties, he’s put together a time-lapse video of how one gets built from start to finish, which you can see after the break.

Even if you’re not interested in adding a mathematics appliance to your home, we think you’ll agree that the video is a fascinating look at the effort that goes into manufacturing a product that’s only slightly north of a one-off creation.

The biggest takeaway is that you really need to be a jack of all trades to pull something like this off. From milling and polishing the metal components to hand-placing the SMD parts and reflowing the board, [Karl] demonstrates the sort of multi-disciplinary mastery you need to have when there’s only one person on the assembly line.

Small scale manufacturing isn’t cheap, and is rarely easy. But stories like this one prove it’s certainly possible if you’re willing to put in the effort.

Continue reading “A Behind The Scenes Look At Small Scale Production”

New Part Day: Arduino Goes Pro With The Portenta H7

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is traditionally where the big names in tech show off their upcoming products, and the 2020 show was no different. There were new smartphones, TVs, and home automation devices from all the usual suspects. Even a few electric vehicles snuck in there. But mixed in among flashy presentations from the electronics giants was a considerably more restrained announcement from a company near and dear to the readers of Hackaday: Arduino is going pro.

While Arduino has been focused on the DIY and educational market since their inception, the newly unveiled Portenta H7 is designed for professional users who want to rapidly develop robust hardware suitable for industrial applications. With built-in wireless hardware and the ability to run Python and JavaScript out of the box, the powerful dual-core board comes with a similarly professional price tag; currently for preorder at $99 USD a pop, the Portenta is priced well outside of the company’s traditional DIY and educational markets. With increased competition from other low-cost microcontrollers, it seems that Arduino is looking to expand out of its comfort zone and find new revenue streams.

Continue reading “New Part Day: Arduino Goes Pro With The Portenta H7”

Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era

After over a decade of laptop use, I made the move a couple of months ago back to a desktop computer. An ex-corporate compact PC and a large widescreen monitor on a stand, and alongside them a proper mouse and my trusty IBM Model M that has served me for decades. At a stroke, the ergonomics of my workspace changed for the better, as I no longer have to bend slightly to see the screen.

The previous desktop PC was from an earlier time. I think it had whatever the AMD competitor to a Pentium 4 was, and if I recall correctly, its 512 MB of memory was considered to be quite something. On the back it had an entirely different set of sockets to my new one, a brace of serial ports, a SCSI port, and a parallel printer port. Inside the case, its various drives were served by a set of ribbon cables. It even boasted a floppy drive. By contrast the cabling on its successor is a lot lighter, with much less bulky connectors. A few USB plugs and a network cable, and SATA for its disk drive. The days of bulky multiway interconnects are behind us, and probably most of us are heaving a sigh of relief. Continue reading “Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era”

Liquid Cooling Keeps This Electronic Load’s MOSFETs From Burning

Problem: your electronic load works fine, except for the occasional MOSFET bursting into flames. Solution: do what [tbladykas] did, and build a water-cooled electronic load.

One can quibble that perhaps there are other ways to go about preventing your MOSFETs from burning, including changes to the electrical design. But he decided to take a page from [Kerry Wong]’s design book and go big. [Kerry]’s electronic load was air-cooled and capable of sinking 100 amps; [tbladykas] only needed 60 or 70 amps or so. Since he had an all-in-one liquid CPU cooler on hand, it was only natural to use that for cooling.

The IXYS linear MOSFET dangles off the end of the controller PCB, where the TO-247 device is soldered directly to the copper cold plate of the AiO cooler. This might seem sketchy as the solder could melt if things got out of hand, but then again drilling and tapping the cold plate could lead to leakage of the thermal coupling fluid. It hasn’t had any rigorous testing yet – his guesstimate is 300 Watts dissipation at this point – but as his primary endpoint was to stop the MOSFET fires, the exact details aren’t that important.

We’ve seen a fair number of liquid-cooled Raspberry Pis and Arduinos before, but we can’t find an example of a liquid-cooled electronic load. Perhaps [tbladykas] is onto something with this design.