If You Are Planning On Building Your Own Space Shuttle…

One of the most complicated machines ever built was the US space shuttle (technically, the STS or Space Transportation System). Despite the title, we doubt anyone is going to duplicate it. However, one of the most interesting things about the shuttle’s avionics — the electronics that operate the machine — is that being a government project there is a ridiculous amount of material available about how it works. NASA has a page that gathers up a description of the vehicle’s avionics. If you are more interested in the actual rocket science, just back up a few levels.

We will warn you, though, that if you’ve never worked on space hardware, some of the design choices will seem strange. There are two reasons for that. First, the environment is very strange. You have to deal with high acceleration, shock, vibration, and radiation, among other things. The other reason is that the amount of time between design and deployment is so long due to testing and just plain red tape that you will almost certainly be deploying with technology that is nearly out of date if not obsolete.

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Build Your Own Avionics Suite, If You Dare

If you’re really interested in aircraft and flying, there are many ways to explore that interest. There are models of a wide range of sizes and complexities that are powered and remote-controlled, and even some small lightweight aircraft that can get you airborne yourself for a minimum of expense. If you’re lucky enough to have your own proper airplane, though, and you’re really into open source projects, you can also replace your airplane’s avionics kit with your own open source one.

Avionics are the electronics that control and monitor the aircraft, and they’re a significant part of the aircraft’s ability to fly properly. This avionics package from [j-omega] (who can also be found on hackaday.io) will fit onto a small aircraft engine and monitor things like oil temperature, RPM, coolant temperature, and a wide array of other features of the engine. It’s based on an ATmega microcontroller, and has open-source schematics for the entire project and instructions for building it yourself. Right now it doesn’t seem like the firmware is available on the GitHub page yet, but will hopefully be posted soon for anyone who’s interested in an open-source avionics package like this.

The project page does mention that this is experimental as well, so it might not be advised to use in your own personal aircraft without some proper testing first. That being said, if you’ve heard that warning and have decided just to stay on the ground, it’s possible to have a great experience without getting in a real airplane at all.

Open Source Modular Rocket Avionics Package

Cambridge postgraduate student [Adam Greig] helped design a rocket avionics system consisting of a series of disc-shaped PCBs arranged in a stack. There’s a lot that went into the system and you can get a good look at it all through the flickr album.

Built with the help of Cambridge University Spaceflight, the Martlet is a 3-staging sounding rocket that lifts to 15km/50K feet on Cesaroni Pro98 engines. [Adam]’s control system uses several Arm Cortex M4s on various boards rather than having just one brain controlling everything.

Each disc is a module that plays a specific role in the system. There are a couple of power supply boards sporting twin LTC2975 able to supply custom power to a dozen different circuits. The power system has a master control board also sporting an M4. There’s an IMU board with the guidance system — accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, and barometer, all monitored by an algorithm that computes the rocket’s position and attitude in-flight. There’s a radio board with a GPS receiver and an ISM band radio transceiver for telemetry, as well as a datalogger with 10 thermocouple measurement channels. Engines are controlled by the pyro board which controls firing currents on four different channels. The vertical spacers also serve to transmit power and data to neighboring boards.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out the project’s code and schematics on [Adam]’s GitHub repository.

[Adam] is no stranger to these pages, with his Nerf Vulcan turret published a few years back, as well as his balloon tracking rig published more recently. Photos are CC-SA and can be found in [Adam]’s Flickr feed.

A Next-Level Home-Built Flight Simulator

Every hobby needs to have a few people who take it just a little too far. In particular, the aviation hobbies – Radio control flying, FPV multicopter racing, and the like – seem to inspire more than their fair share of hard-core builds. In witness whereof we present this over-the-top home-brew flight simulator.

His wife and friends think he’s crazy, and we agree. But [XPilotSimPro] is that special kind of crazy that it takes to advance the state of the art, and we applaud him for that. A long-time fan of flight simulator games, he was lucky enough to log some time in a real 737 simulator. That seems to be where he caught the DIY bug. The video after the break is a whirlwind tour of the main part of his build, which does not seek to faithfully reproduce any particular cockpit as much as create a plausibly awesome one. Built on a PVC pipe frame with plywood panels, the cockpit is bristling with LCD panels, flight instruments, and bays of avionics that look like they came out of a cockpit. The simulator sits facing a wall with an overhead LCD projector providing views of the outside world. An overhead panel sporting yet more LCD panels and instruments was a recent addition. The whole thing is powered by a hefty looking gaming rig running X-Plane, allowing [XPilotSimPro] to take on any aviation challenge, including landing an Embraer 109 on the deck of the USS Nimitz Aircraft Carrier.

What could be next for [XPilotSimPro]’s simulator? How about adding a little motion control with pneumatics? Or better still, how about using a real 737 cockpit as a simulator?

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Hackaday Links: May 24, 2015

A few months ago, we heard about a random guy finding injection molds for old Commodore computers. He did what the best of us would do and started a Kickstarter to remanufacture these cool old cases. It’s the best story on retrocomputing this year, and someone else figured out they could remanufacture Commodore 64 keycaps. If you got one of these remanufactured cases, give the keycaps a look.

Remember this Android app that will tell you the value of resistors by reading their color code. Another option for the iOS crowd was presented at Maker Faire last weekend. It’s called ResistorVision, and it’s perfect for the colorblind people out there. An Android version of ResistorVision will be released sometime in the near future.

A few folks at Langly Research Center have a very cool job. They built a hybrid electric tilt wing plane with eight motors on the wing and two on the tail. It’s ultimately powered by two 8 hp diesel engines that charge Liion batteries. When it comes to hydrocarbon-powered hovering behemoths, our heart is with Goliath.

A bottom-of-the-line avionics panel for a small private plane costs about $10,000. How do you reduce the cost? Getting rid of FAA certification? Yeah. And by putting a Raspberry Pi in it. It was expoed last month at the Sun ‘N Fun in Florida, and it’s exactly what the pilots out there would expect: a flight system running on a Raspberry Pi. It was installed in a Zenith 750, a 2-seat LSA, registered as an experimental. You can put just about anything in the cabin of one of these, and the FAA is okay with it. If it’ll ever be certified is anyone’s guess.

Cracking Open An Ancient Avionics Gyroscope

This artificial horizon might as well have come from an alien ship. [Mike] somehow manages to get his hands on most interesting equipment, this time its a very old piece of avionics equipment. The mechanical gyroscope functioned as the artificial horizon, and he’s going to take us inside for a look. He doesn’t spend quite as much time on it as he did that thermal imaging camera, but this electro-mechanical odyssey is just as interesting.

To get the accuracy needed to help keep a plane in the air (well to keep the pilot well-informed anyway) the device needed to be very well manufactured. [Mike] comments several times along the way on how the different rotating parts are so well-balanced and machined that they seem nearly frictionless. It appears that a lot of the positional feedback depends on wirewound resistor rings which connect to a rotating piece via a series of very fine spring wires. As the parts rotate the resistance changes and that’s what gives the feedback. There are also mercury switches to help along the way.

He does his best to explain, but to us the inner workings are still a big mystery. See if you can get a clearer picture from the video after the break.

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