How To Build A CubeSat

There was a time when building your own satellite and having it placed into orbit would have been a wild dream. Now it is extremely possible, but still not trivial. A CubeSat is a very small satellite that can hitch a ride with a bigger satellite or get tossed out of a friendly space station. This week’s issue of The Orbital Index has a very good overview of what all is required. It also contains a great selection of links to get more information.

At first glance, it seems like it would be pretty simple. A computer, a battery, and some solar cells. Well, you probably want to hear back from it, so then you need a radio. Oh, and an antenna. But the antenna can’t stick out during launch so you need a way to deploy it. If you want the satellite to point somewhere, you’ll need things for that, too. Some CubeSats even have tiny thrusters to affect their orbit.

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Retrotechtacular: The OSCAR 7 Satellite Died And Was Reborn 20 Years Later

If I were to ask you what is the oldest man-made orbiting satellite still in use, I’d expect to hear a variety of answers. Space geeks might mention the passive radar calibration spheres, or possibly one of the early weather satellites. But what about the oldest communication satellite still in use?

The answer is a complicated one. Oscar 7 is an amateur radio satellite launched on November 5th 1974, carrying two transponders and four beacons, all of which operate on bands available to amateur radio operators. Nearly 45 years later it still provides radio amateurs with contacts just as it did in the 1970s. But this bird’s history is anything but ordinary. It’s the satellite that came back from the dead after being thought lost forever. And just as it was fading from view it played an unexpected role in the resistance to the communist government in Poland.

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Preserving Historic NASA Display Technology

When [Patrick Hickey] spent a tidy sum on eBay to purchase a pair of seven-segment displays used in the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center during the Apollo program, he could have just put them up on a shelf. It’s certainly what most people would have done. Instead, he’s decided to study and document their design with the hope of eventually creating 3D replicas of these unique pieces of NASA history.

With a half century now separating us from the Moon landing, it’s more important than ever to preserve the incredible technology that NASA used during mankind’s greatest adventure. Legitimate Apollo-era hardware is fairly scarce on the open market, and certainly not cheap. As [Patrick] explains on the Hackaday.io page for this project, being able to 3D print accurate replicas of these displays is perhaps the best way we can be sure they won’t be lost to history.

But more than that, he also wants others to be able to see them in operation and perhaps even use them in their own projects. So that means coming up with modern electronics that stand-in for the 60s era hardware which originally powered them.

Since [Patrick] doesn’t have access to whatever (likely incandescent) lighting source these displays used originally, his electronics are strictly functional rather than being an attempt at a historic recreation. But we have to say, the effect looks fantastic regardless.

Currently, [Patrick] is putting most of his efforts on the smaller of the two displays that he calls “Type A”. The chunk of milled aluminum with integrated cooling fins has a relatively simple shape that should lend itself to replication through 3D scanning or even just a pair of calipers. He’s also put together a proof of concept for how he intends to light the display with 5mm LEDs on a carefully trimmed bit of protoboard, which he plans on eventually refining to reduce the number of wires used.

One aspect he’s still a little unsure of is how best to replicate the front mask. It appears to be made of etched metal with an integrated fiberglass diffuser, and while he’s already come up with a few possible ways to create a similar front panel for his 3D printed version, he’s certainly open to suggestions from the community.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a dedicated individual use 3D printing to recreate a rare and expensive object. While the purists will say that an extruded plastic version doesn’t compare to the real thing, we think it’s certainly better than letting technology like this fade into obscurity.

Project Egress: The Hinges

A door’s hinges are arguably its most important pieces. After all, a door without hinges is just, well, a wall. Or a bulkhead, if we’re talking about a hingeless hatch on a spacecraft.

And so the assignment for creating hinges for Progress Egress, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing by creating a replica of the command module hatch, went to [Jimmy DiResta]. The hinges were complex linkages that were designed to not only handle the 225 pound (102 kg) hatch on the launch pad, but to allow extended extravehicular activity (EVA) while en route to the Moon. [Jimmy], a multimedia maker, is just as likely to turn metal as he is to work in wood, and his hinges are a study of 1960s aerospace engineering rendered in ipe, and extremely hard and dense tropical hardwood, and brass.

[Jimmy]’s build started with a full-size 3D-printed model of the hinge, a move that paid off as the prints acted both as templates for machining the wood components and as test jigs to make sure everything would articulate properly. Sheet brass was bent and soldered into the hinge brackets, while brass rod stock was turned on the lathe to simulate the hydraulic cylinder hinge stays of the original. The dark ipe and the brass work really well together, and should go nicely with [Fran Blanche]’s walnut and brass latch on the assembled hatch.

With [Adam Savage]’s final assembly of all the parts scheduled for Thursday the 18th, we’re down to the wire on this celebration of both Apollo and the maker movement that was at least in part born from it.

Note: the assembly started at 11:00 Eastern time, and there’s a live stream at https://airandspace.si.edu/events/project-egress-build.

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Hardware Notifications For ISS Flybys

Since Sputnik launched in the 1950s, its been possible to look outside at night and spot artificial satellites orbiting with the naked eye. While Sputnik isn’t up there anymore, a larger, more modern satellite is readily located: the International Space Station. In fact, NASA has a program which will alert anyone who signs up when the ISS is about to fly overhead. A better alert, though, is this ISS notifier which is a dedicated piece of hardware that guarantees you won’t miss the next flyby.

This notifier is built around the Tokymaker, a platform aimed at making electronics projects almost painfully easy to learn. Connections to various modules can be made without soldering, and programming is done via a graphical interface reminiscent of Scratch. Using these tools, [jaime_lc98] designed a tool which flips up a tiny paper astronaut whenever the ISS is nearby. The software side takes advantage of IFTTT to easily and reliably control the servo on the Tokymaker.

The project pages goes into detail about how to set up IFTTT and also how to use the block-style language to program the Tokymaker. It’s pretty straightforward to get it up and running, relatively inexpensive, and looks like a great way to get the miniature hackers in your life excited about space. If they happen to learn a little something in the proces, well, we won’t tell them if you won’t. It might also be a good stepping stone on the way to other ISS-related hacks.

Project Egress: A Bracket And A Bell Crank For The Latches

Put yourself in [This Old Tony]’s shoes: you get an email out of the blue asking you to take part in making a replica of a 50-year-old spacecraft. Would you believe it? He didn’t, at least not at first, but in the end it proved to be true enough that he made these two assemblies for Project Egress in his own unique style.

If you haven’t heard of Project Egress, check out our coverage of the initial announcement. The idea is to build a replica of the crew hatch from the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, as part of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing next week. [Adam Savage] at Tested has enlisted 44 hackers and makers to help, spreading the work out among the group and letting everyone work in whatever materials and with whatever methods they feel like. [Old Tony], perhaps unsurprisingly, chose mainly Apollo-era dehydrated space-grade aluminum, machined using a combination of manual and CNC machining. We really like the finish he chose – a combination of sandblasting and manual distressing to give it a mission-worn look.

As for exactly what the parts themselves are, the best [Old Tony] could come up with to call them is a bracket and a bell crank. From the original hatch drawings, it looks like there were two bell cranks, which will transmit force around the hatch to the latches that [Fran Blanche], [Joel] and [Bob], and no doubt others have contributed to the build.

We’re eagerly anticipating the final assembly, to be executed by [Adam] live at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on July 18. Project Egress is as much a celebration of the maker movement as it is a commemoration of Apollo, and we’re pleased that people will get a chance to see the fruits of the labors of all these hackers in so public a forum.

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New Space Abort Systems Go Back To The Future

Throughout the history of America’s human spaceflight program, there’s been an alternating pattern in regards to abort systems. From Alan Shepard’s first flight in 1961 on, every Mercury capsule was equipped with a Launch Escape System (LES) tower that could pull the spacecraft away from a malfunctioning rocket. But by the first operational flight of the Gemini program in 1965, the LES tower had been deleted in favor of ejection seats. Just three years later, the LES tower returned for the first manned flight of the Apollo program.

Mercury LES Tower

With the Space Shuttle, things got more complicated. There was no safe way to separate the Orbiter from the rest of the stack, so when Columbia made its first test flight in 1981, NASA returned again to ejection seats, this time pulled from an SR-71 Blackbird. But once flight tests were complete, the ejector seats were removed; leaving Columbia and all subsequent Orbiters without any form of LES. At the time, NASA believed the Space Shuttle was so reliable that there was no need for an emergency escape system.

It took the loss of Challenger and her crew in 1986 to prove NASA had made a grave error in judgment, but by then, it was too late. Changes were made to the Shuttle in the wake of the accident investigation, but escape during powered flight was still impossible. While a LES would not have saved the crew of Columbia in 2003, another seven lives lost aboard the fundamentally flawed Orbiter played a large part in President George W. Bush’s decision to begin winding down the Shuttle program.

In the post-Shuttle era, NASA has made it clear that maintaining abort capability from liftoff to orbital insertion is a critical requirement. Their own Orion spacecraft has this ability, and they demand the same from commercial partners such as SpaceX and Boeing. But while all three vehicles are absolutely bristling with high-tech wizardry, their abort systems are not far removed from what we were using in the 1960’s.

Let’s take a look at the Launch Escape Systems for America’s next three capsules, and see where historical experience helped guide the design of these state-of-the-art spacecraft.

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