China’s Moon Mission Was About More Than Rocks

If everything goes according to plan, China will soon become the third country behind the United States and the Soviet Union to successfully return a sample of lunar material. Their Chang’e 5 mission, which was designed to collect 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of soil and rock from the Moon’s surface, has so far gone off without a hitch. Assuming the returning spacecraft successfully renters the Earth’s atmosphere and lands safely on December 16th, China will officially be inducted into a very exclusive club of Moon explorers.

Of course, spaceflight is exceedingly difficult and atmospheric reentry is particularly challenging. Anything could happen in the next few days, so it would be premature to celebrate the Chang’e 5 mission as a complete success. But even if ground controllers lose contact with the vehicle on its return to Earth, or it burns up in the atmosphere, China will come away from this mission with a wealth of valuable experience that will guide its lunar program for years to come.

In fact, one could argue that was always the real goal of the mission. While there’s plenty of scientific knowledge and not an inconsequential amount of national pride to be gained from bringing a few pounds of Moon rocks back to Earth, it’s no secret that China has greater aspirations when it comes to our nearest celestial neighbor. Starting with the launch of the Chang’e 1 in 2007, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program has progressed through several operational phases, each more technically challenging than the last. Chang’e 5 represents the third phase of the plan, with only the establishment of robotic research station to go before the country says they’ll proceed with a crewed landing in the 2030s.

Which helps explain why, even for a sample return from the Moon, Chang’e 5 is such an extremely complex mission. A close look at the hardware and techniques involved shows a mission profile considerably more difficult than was strictly necessary. The logical conclusion is that China intentionally took the long way around so they could use it as a dry run for the more challenging missions that still lay ahead.

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Norway Leads The Charge To Phase Out Internal Combustion; China And The UK To Follow

Climate change promises to cause untold damage across the world if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current levels for much longer. Despite the wealth of evidence indicating impending doom, governments have done what humans do best, and procrastinated on solving the issue.

However, legislatures around the world are beginning to snap into action. With transportation being a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions — 16% of the global total in 2016 — measures are being taken to reduce this figure. With electric cars now a viable reality, many governments are planning to ban the sale of internal combustion vehicles in the coming decades.

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Building Walks With Robot Legs

The Shanghai Evolution Shift company has just pulled off one of the most impressive robotic projects we’ve ever seen – making a building walk using 198 robotic legs. We’ve all seen structural relocation documentaries where large buildings are moved to new locations. This involves jacking up the building and installing a supporting platform on wheels, then carefully towing the building to its new site.

But the T shape of the five story, 7600 ton Lagena elementary school was problematic, and the route to the new site involved taking a curved path and rotating the building. This ruled out the more traditional methods of relocation. Robot legs came to the rescue. It took 18 days for the building to walk 62 meters and rotate 21 degrees to its new home. This project is part of a trend to preserve historic architecture rather than bulldoze everything to make space for modern buildings.

After watching the video below, we think you’ll agree that this is a unique application of robotics and an amazing engineering feat. Disclaimer – don’t try this at home. Thanks to [Chuckz] for sending us this tip.

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What Is The Tianwen-1 Probe Saying?

A few days ago, the Chinese National Space Administration launched their Tianwen-1 mission to Mars from their launch site in the province of Hainan. It should arrive at the Red Planet in April 2021, when it will face the daunting task of launching a surface probe from its orbiting component, which will release a rover once it has reached the surface. Like all such missions it’s in constant contact with its controllers on the ground, and as with any radio transmissions floating through the aether its telemetry has been received by the radio hacker community and analaysed by [r00t].

Straight away there’s something interesting in the modulation scheme, instead of a carrier with modulation applied to it there is a main unmodulated centre carrier, and the data appears instead on a series of subcarriers. Is this a feature of its being a space probe, the unmodulated carrier making it easier to find and track in deep space?

They quickly find the telemetry carrier, and decode its frames. It carries a series of data sets, including positional and instrumentation data. From the positional data they can tell when the craft has made any course changes, and from the sensor data such as the solar sensor its movement can be deduced and graphed. It makes for a fascinating insight into the mission, and we’re grateful for the analysis.

Mars is a notoriously difficult target for space probes, somewhere that multiple missions have for various reasons failed to reach. We hope the Tianwen-1 mission is ultimately successful and that in time the Chinese space people will in due course be showing us some of the fruits of their labours. They’re not alone in launching this month, so we’ve got a plethora of Mars-related stories to look forward to next year.

Header image: Tianwen-1 rover mockup. Pablo de León‎ / CC BY-SA 3.0

EU Duty Changes, A Whole VAT Of Trouble For Hackers?

It could be said that there are a number of factors behind  the explosion of creativity in our community of hardware hackers over the last couple of decades, but one in particular that is beyond doubt is the ease with which it has been possible to import small orders from China. See something on AliExpress and it can be yours for a few quid, somewhere in a warehouse on the other side of the world it’s put into a grey shipping bag, and three weeks later it’s on your doorstep. This bounty has in no small part been aided by a favourable postage and taxation environment in which both low postage costs and a lack of customs duties on packages under a certain value conspire to render getting the product in front of you a fraction of the cost of buying the thing in the first place. Continue reading “EU Duty Changes, A Whole VAT Of Trouble For Hackers?”

An Open Source Ebike

In the ebike world, there are two paths. The first is a homemade kit bike with motors and controllers from China. The second is a prebuilt bike from a manufacturer like Giant, with motors and controllers from China, which will be half as fast and cost three times as much. The choice is obvious, and there are other benefits to taking the first path as well, such as using this equipment which now has an open source firmware option.

The Tong Sheng TSDZ2 drive is popular in the ebike world because it’s an affordable kit motor which has a pedal-assist mode using torque sensors, resulting in a more polished experience. In contrast, other popular kit motors tend to rely on less expensive cadence sensors which are not as smooth or intuitive. This new open source firmware for the TSDZ2 further improves on the ride by improving the motor responsiveness, improving battery efficiency, and opening up the ability to use any of a number of color displays. (More information is available on a separate Wiki.)

If you have a TSDZ2-based ebike it might be time to break out the laptop and get to work installing this firmware. If you’re behind the times and still haven’t figured out that ebikes are one of the best ways to travel, here is the proof you need.

Thanks to [coaxial] for the tip! Photo via Reddit user [PippyLongSausage].

Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Coronavirus Supply Chain Exposure?

In whichever hemisphere you dwell, winter is the time of year when viruses come into their own. Cold weather forces people indoors, crowding them together in buildings and creating a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of viruses. Everything from the common cold to influenza spread quickly during the cold months, spreading misery and debilitation far and wide.

In addition to the usual cocktail of bugs making their annual appearance, this year a new virus appeared. Novel coronavirus 2019, or 2019-nCoV, cropped up first in the city of Wuhan in east-central China. From a family of viruses known to cause everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in humans, 2019-nCoV tends toward the more virulent side of the spectrum, causing 600 deaths out of 28,000 infections reported so far, according to official numbers at the time of this writing.

(For scale: the influenzas hit tens of millions of people, resulting in around four million severe illnesses and 500,000 deaths per season, worldwide.)

With China’s unique position in the global economy, 2019-nCoV has the potential to seriously disrupt manufacturing. It may seem crass to worry about something as trivial as this when people are suffering, and of course our hearts go out to the people who are directly affected by this virus and its aftermath. But just like businesses have plans for contingencies such as this, so too should the hacking community know what impact something like 2019-nCoV will have on supply chains that we’ve come to depend on.

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