No one loves a good competition more than Hackaday. We run enough to keep anyone busy. But if you have a little spare time after designing your one inch PCB, you might check out the competition to develop a robotic arm for NASA’s Astrobee robot.
Some of the challenges are already closed, but there are quite a few still open for a few more months (despite the published closing date of and these look like great projects for a hacker. In particular, the software architecture and command, data, and power system are yet to start.
But don’t let the $25,000 fool you. That’s spread out over a number of awards for the entire series. Each task has an award that ranges from $250 to $5,000. However, you also have to win that award, of course. If you register, however, you do get a sticker that has flown on the space station.
If you haven’t seen Astrobee, it is a flying robot made to assist astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station. The robot is really a floating sensor platform that can do some autonomous tasks but can also act as a telepresence robot for flight controllers. You might enjoy the second video below if you haven’t seen Astrobee, before.
The International Space Station is one of our leading frontiers of science and engineering, but it’s easy to forget that an exotic orbiting laboratory has basic needs shared with every terrestrial workplace. This includes humble office equipment like a printer. (The ink-on-paper kind.) And if you thought your office IT is slow to update their list of approved equipment, consider the standard issue NASA space printer draws from a stock of modified Epson Stylus 800s first flown on a space shuttle almost twenty years ago. HP signed on to provide a replacement, partnering with Simplexity who outlined their work as a case study upgrading HP’s OfficeJet 5740 design into the HP Envy ISS.
Simplexity provided more engineering detail than HP’s less technical page. Core parts of inkjet printing are already well suited for space and required no modification. Their low power consumption is valued when all power comes from solar panels, and ink flow is already controlled via methods independent of gravity. Most of the engineering work focused on paper handling in zero gravity, similar to the work necessary for its Epson predecessor. To verify gravity-independent operation on earth, Simplexity started by mounting their test units upside-down and worked their way up to testing in the cabin of an aircraft in free fall.
CollectSpace has a writeup with details outside Simplexity’s scope, covering why ISS needs a printer plus additional modifications made in the interest of crew safety. Standard injection-molded plastic parts were remade with an even more fire-resistant formulation of plastic. The fax/scanner portion of the device was removed due to concerns around its glass bed. Absorbent mats were attached inside the printer to catch any stray ink droplets.
NASA commissioned a production run for 50 printers, the first of which was delivered by SpaceX last week on board their CRS-14 mission. When it wears out, a future resupply mission will deliver its replacement drawn from this stock of space printers. Maybe a new inkjet printer isn’t as exciting as 3D printing in space or exploring space debris cleanup, but it’s still a part of keeping our orbital laboratory running.
Tracking satellites and the ISS is pretty easy. All you really need is an SDR dongle or a handheld transceiver, a simple homebrew antenna, and a clear view of the sky. Point the antenna at the passing satellite and you’re ready to listen, or if you’re a licensed amateur, talk. But the tedious bit is the pointing. Standing in a field or on top of a tall building waving an antenna around gets tiring, and unless you’re looking for a good arm workout, limits the size of your antenna. Which is where this two-axis antenna positioner could come in handy.
While not quite up to the job it was originally intended for — positioning a 1.2-meter dish antenna — [Manuel] did manage to create a pretty capable azimuth-elevation positioner for lightweight antennas. What’s more, he did it on the cheap — only about €150. His design seemed like it was going in the right direction, with a sturdy aluminum extrusion frame and NEMA23 steppers. But the 3D-printed parts turned out to be the Achille’s heel. At the 1:40 mark in the video below (in German with English subtitles), the hefty dish antenna is putting way too much torque on the bearings, delaminating the bearing mount. But with a slender carbon-fiber Yagi, the positioner shines. The Arduino running the motion control talks GS232, so it can get tracking data directly from the web to control the antenna in real time.
An elderly relative of mine used to get irate at the BBC news. When our Prime Minister [Edward Heath] or another of her bêtes noirs of the day came on, she’d rail at the radio or the TV, expressing her views to them in no uncertain terms. It taught a young me a lot about the futility of shouting at the telly, as well as about making a spectacle of oneself.
The other evening though I found myself almost at the point of shouting at a TV programme, and since it’s one with a clear message about technology I feel it’s worth sharing here. The programme in question was one of the Impossible Engineering series, and it was talking about the technology behind the International Space Station. It was recent enough to include last year’s mission involving [Tim Peake], so it was by no means a show dredged from the archives.
All very well, you say. Impossible Engineering‘s format of looking at a modern engineering marvel and tracing the historical roots of some of its innovations would find fertile ground in the ISS, after all it’s one of our most impressive achievements and could easily provide content for several seasons of the show. And I’ll give them this, they did provide an interesting episode.
The trouble was, they made an omission. And it wasn’t just a slight omission, one of those minor cock-ups that when we Hackaday scribes make them the commenters pounce upon with glee, this one was a doozy. They managed to fill an hour of television talking about space stations and in particular a space station that was assembled by multiple countries under an international co-operation, without mention of any of the Russian technology that underpins much of its design. An egregious example among many was their featuring a new Boeing capsule designed to touchdown on land rather than on water as a novel invention, when as far as I am aware every Russian capsule ever made has performed a land-based touchdown.
If you’d have asked most people a few decades ago if they wanted a picture of every street address in the world, they would have probably looked at you like you were crazy. But turns out that Google Street View is handy for several reasons. Sure, it is easy to check out the neighborhood around that cheap hotel before you book. But it is also a great way to visit places virtually. Now one of those places is the International Space Station (ISS).
[Thomas Pesquet] in a true hack used bungee cords and existing cameras to take panoramas of all 15 ISS modules. Google did their magic, and you can enjoy the results. You can also see a video on how it was all done, below.
The cube sat in question is UPSat, a 2U cubesat that is completely Open Source. Everything from the chassis to the firmware is completely Open, with all the source files hosted on GitHub.
UPSat is currently on its way to the International Space Station stowed in an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft. From here, the UPSat will be unloaded by members of the current ISS expedition and deployed with help from NanoRacks. Basically, the first Open Source satellite will be tossed overboard from the International Space Station. If you want to listen in on the data UPSat is beaming down, build a SatNOGS ground station and tune into 435.765 MHz. With a good antenna, you should be able to hear it when the ISS is in the sky, or a few times a week.
You can check out the launch of the Cygnus the UPSat is flying on in the video below. NASA also recorded a 360° video from the launch pad that unfortunately cuts out in the first few seconds after launch.
According to [Trey Smith] of the NASA Ames Research Center, Astrobee is an autonomous robot that will be able to maneuver inside the ISS in three dimensions using vectored thrust from a pair of turbines. The floating droid will navigate visually, using a camera to pick out landmarks aboard the station, including docking ports that let it interface with power and data. A simple arm allows Astrobee to grab onto any of the hand rails inside the ISS to provide a stable point for viewing astronaut activities or helping out with the science.
As cool as Astrobee is, we’re intrigued by how the team at Ames is testing it. The droid is mounted on a stand that floats over an enormous and perfectly flat granite slab using low-friction CO₂ gas bearings, giving it freedom to move in two dimensions. We can’t help but wonder why they didn’t suspend the Astrobee from a gantry using a counterweight to add that third dimension in. Maybe that’s next.
From the sound of it, Astrobee is slated to be flight ready by the end of 2017, so we’ll be watching to see how it does. But if they find themselves with a little free time in the schedule, perhaps adding a few 3D-printed cosmetics would allow them to enter the Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.
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