[Alex] printed the parts for the model on the Ender 5 Pro, while [Josh] snapped the shots using a Canon EOS 90D. The realism of the final shots serves as a testament to how well they’ve honed their respective tools, but credit for the 3D model itself has to go to the good folks over at NASA.
On February 18th, the Perseverance rover safely touched down on the Martian surface. In the coming days and weeks, the wide array of instruments and scientific payloads tucked aboard the robotic explorer will spring to life; allowing us to learn more about the Red Planet. With a little luck, it may even bring us closer to determining if Mars once harbored life as we know it.
Among all of the pieces of equipment aboard the rover, one of the most intriguing must certainly be Ingenuity. This small helicopter will become the first true aircraft to take off and fly on another planet, and in a recent interview with IEEE Spectrum, operations lead [Tim Canham] shared some fascinating details about the vehicle and some of the unorthodox decisions that went into its design.
[Tim] explains that, as a technology demonstrator, the team was allowed to take far more risks in developing Ingenuity than they would have been able to otherwise. Rather than sticking with legacy hardware and software, they were free to explore newer and less proven technology.
That included off-the-shelf consumer components, such as a laser altimeter purchased from SparkFun. It also means that the computational power packed into Ingenuity far exceeds that of Perseverance itself, though how well the helicopter’s smartphone-class Snapdragon 801 processor will handle the harsh Martian environment is yet to be seen.
On the software side, we also learn that Ingenuity is making extensive use of open source code. Not only is the onboard computer running Linux, but the vehicle is being controlled by an Apache 2.0 licensed framework developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for CubeSats and other small spacecraft. The project is available on GitHub for anyone who wants it, and according to the changelog, the fixes and improvements required for the “Mars Helicopter Project” were merged in a few releases ago.
The fact that code currently ticking away on the surface of Mars can be downloaded and implemented into your own DIY project is a revelation that’s not lost on [Tim]. “It’s kind of an open-source victory because we’re flying an open-source operating system and an open-source flight software framework and flying commercial parts that you can buy off the shelf if you wanted to do this yourself someday.”
Of course, it took a whole lot more than some Python libraries and a handful of sensors from SparkFun to design and build the first space-going helicopter. But the fact that even a small slice of the technology inside of a project like Ingenuity is now available to the average hacker and maker is a huge step towards democratizing scientific research here on Earth.
Over the past few weeks, a new season of Mars fever kicked off with launches of three interplanetary missions. And since there’s a sizable overlap between fans of spaceflight and those of electronics and 3D printing, the European Space Agency released the ExoMy rover for those who want to experience a little bit of Mars from home.
ExoMy’s smiling face and cartoonish proportions are an adaptation of ESA’s Rosalind Franklin (formerly the ExoMars) rover which, if 2020 hadn’t turned out to be 2020, would have been on its way to Mars as well. While Rosalind Franklin must wait for the next Mars launch window, we can launch ExoMy missions to our homes now. Like the real ESA rover, ExoMy has a triple bogie suspension design distinctly different from the rocker-bogie design used by NASA JPL’s rover family. Steering all six wheels rather than just four, ExoMy has maneuvering chops visible in a short Instagram video clip (also embedded after the break).
ExoMy’s quoted price of admission is in the range of 250-500€. Perusing instructions posted on GitHub, we see an electronics nervous system built around a Raspberry Pi. Its published software stack is configured for human remote control, but as it is already running ROS (Robot Operating System), it should be an easy on-ramp for ExoMars builders with the ambition of adding autonomy.
Three students were a little sad when NASA’s Opportunity rover went silent after 15 years on the Martian surface. So they decided to build their own rover inspired by Opportunity to roam their backyards using an off-the-shelf robot chassis, a Raspberry Pi, and the usual list of parts like motors, H-bridges, and batteries.
Like the real rover, the vehicle uses a rocker-bogie system, although it is a little less complex than the version NASA sent blasting off towards the Red Planet. The plucky vehicle comes complete with miniature solar panels to recharge its onboard battery, courtesy of some dollar-store garden lights. A pair of videos after the break show how the rover is controlled, as well as the view sent back from its onboard camera.
The rover ran a simulated Mars mission as part of a school project where it had to find an object and transmit an image of it back to home base, and by the looks of it, is was a rousing success. But the young explorers aren’t resting on their laurels, and are already working on a second version of their exploration vehicle that can operate in inclement weather and includes some new tools such as a robotic arm and infrared illumination for low-light imaging.
Mars may not be the kind of place to raise your kids, but chances are that one day [Elton John]’s famous lyrics will be wrong about there being no one there to raise them. For now, however, we have probes, orbiters, and landers. Mars missions are going strong this year, with three nations about to launch their rockets towards the Red Planet: the United States sending their Perseverance rover, China’s Tianwen-1 mission, and the United Arab Emirates sending their Hope orbiter.
As all of this is planned to happen still within the month of July, it almost gives the impression of a new era of wild space races where everyone tries to be first. Sure, some egos will certainly be boosted here, but the reason for this increased run within such a short time frame has a simple explanation: Mars will be right around the corner later this year — relatively speaking — providing an ideal opportunity to travel there right now.
In fact, this year is as good as it gets for quite a while. The next time the circumstances will be (almost) as favorable as this year is going to be in 2033, so it’s understandable that space agencies are eager to not miss out on this chance. Not that Mars missions couldn’t be accomplished in the next 13 years — after all, several endeavors are already in the wings for 2022, including the delayed Rosalind Franklin rover launch. It’s just that the circumstances won’t be as ideal.
But what exactly does that mean, and why is that? What makes July 2020 so special? And what’s everyone doing up there anyway? Well, let’s find out!
At this point, most of us are painfully aware of the restrictions that COVID-19 social distancing protocols have put on our daily lives. Anyone who can is working from home, major events are canceled, non-essential businesses are closed, and travel is either strongly discouraged or prohibited outright. In particularly hard hit areas, life and commerce has nearly ground to a halt with no clear end date in sight.
Naturally, there are far reaching consequences for this shutdown beyond what’s happening on the individual level. Large scale projects are also being slowed or halted entirely, as there’s only so much you can do remotely. That’s especially true when the assembly of hardware is concerned, which has put some industries in a particularly tight spot. One sector that’s really feeling the strain is aerospace. Around the world, space agencies are finding that their best laid plans are suddenly falling apart in the face of COVID-19.
In some cases it’s a minor annoyance, requiring nothing more than some tweaks to procedures. But when the movements of the planets are concerned, a delay of weeks or months changes everything. While things are still changing too rapidly to make an exhaustive list, we already know of a few missions that are being impacted in these uncertain times.
Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams discuss the many great hacks of the past week. Just in case you missed the fact that we’re living in the cyberpunk future, you can now pop off your prosthetic hand and jack directly into a synthesizer. The robot headed for Mars has a flying drone in its belly. Now they’re putting foaming agent in filament to make it light and flexible. And did you ever wonder why those pinouts were so jumbled?
Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!