Watching The Watchers: The State Of Space Surveillance

By now you’ve almost certainly heard about the recent release of a high-resolution satellite image showing the aftermath of Iran’s failed attempt to launch their Safir liquid fuel rocket. The geopolitical ramifications of Iran developing this type of ballistic missile technology is certainly a newsworthy story in its own right, but in this case, there’s been far more interest in how the picture was taken. Given known variables such as the time and date of the incident and the location of the launch pad, analysts have determined it was likely taken by a classified American KH-11 satellite.

The image is certainly striking, showing a level of detail that far exceeds what’s available through any of the space observation services we as civilians have access to. Estimated to have been taken from a distance of approximately 382 km, the image appears to have a resolution of at least ten centimeters per pixel. Given that the orbit of the satellite in question dips as low as 270 km on its closest approach to the Earth’s surface, it’s likely that the maximum resolution is even higher.

Of course, there are many aspects of the KH-11 satellites that remain highly classified, especially in regards to the latest hardware revisions. But their existence and general design has been common knowledge for decades. Images taken from earlier generation KH-11 satellites were leaked or otherwise released in the 1980s and 1990s, and while the Iranian image is certainly of a higher fidelity, this is not wholly surprising given the intervening decades.

What we know far less about are the orbital surveillance assets that supersede the KH-11. The satellite that took this image, known by its designation USA 224, has been in orbit since 2011. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has launched a number of newer spacecraft since then, with several more slated to be lifted into orbit between now and 2021.

So let’s take a closer look at the KH-11 series of reconnaissance satellites, and compare that to what we can piece together about the next generation or orbital espionage technology that’s already circling overhead might be capable of.

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Hexagons – The Crazy New Breadboard

A breadboard is a great prototyping tool for verifying the sanity of a circuit design before taking the painstaking effort of soldering it all together permanently. After all, a mistake in this stage can cost a lot of time and possibly material, so it’s important to get it right. [daverowntree] wasn’t fully satisfied with the standard breadboard layout though, with fixed rows and columns. While this might work for most applications, he tried out a new type of prototyping board based on hexagons instead.

The design philosophy here revolves around tessellations, a tiling method for connecting the various components on this unique breadboard rather than using simple rows. The hexagons are tessellated across the board, allowing for some unique combinations that might make it slightly more complicated, but can have some benefits for other types of circuits such as anything involving the use of a three-wire device like a transistor.

The post is definitely worth a read, as [daverowntree] goes through several examples of this method of prototyping where the advantages are shown, like a voltage follower circuit and some other circuits involving transistor biasing. If you’re OK with the general design of breadboards, though, and just wished you didn’t have to do anything after the prototyping stage, we’ve got some help for you there as well.

Watch The Honeycomb Clock Gently Track Time

We love clocks here at Hackaday, and so does [John Whittington]. Last year he created this hexagonal honey clock (or “Honock”) by combining some RGB LEDs with a laser-cut frame to create a smooth time display that uses color and placement to display time with a simple and attractive system.

The outer ring of twelve hexagons is essentially the hour hand, similar to analog clock faces: twelve is up, three is directly to the right, six is straight down, and nine is to the left. The inner ring represents ten minutes per hex. Each time the inner ring fills, the next hex (hour) on the outer ring lights up. The whole display is flooded with a minute-long rainbow at noon and midnight. Watch it in action in the video, embedded below.

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Racing The Beam With Super Hexagon

Early game consoles like the Atari 2600 had a very, very limited amount of RAM. There wasn’t even enough RAM for all the pixels on the screen; instead, pixels were generated by the CPU as they were being drawn. It’s playing with scanlines and colorbusts with code, something we’re now calling. ‘racing the beam’ for some reason.

[Sam] is in the middle of an EE degree right now, and for a digital design class he needed to write some Verilog. At the time he was addicted to the game Super Hexagon, and the game mechanics are simple enough for an FPGA. He built his own implementation, but not one with framebuffers. He’s using a pipelined approach where each pixel’s value is calculated just a few clock cycles before it’s displayed. It vastly reduces the memory requirements, on his Altera DE1 board compared to the framebuffer approach.

Video below.

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