Hackaday Links: Christmas Eve Eve, 2018

The entirety of Silicon Valley is predicated on the ability to ‘move fast and break laws’. Have an idea for a scooter startup? No problem, just throw a bunch of scooters on the curb, littering and e-waste laws be damned. Earlier this year, Swarm Technologies launched four rogue satellites on an Indian rocket. All commercial satellite launches by US companies are regulated by the FCC, and Swarm just decided not to tell the FCC. This was the first unauthorized satellite launch ever. Now, Swarm has been fined $900k. Now that we know the cost of launching unauthorized satellites, so if you’ve got a plan for a satellite startup, the cost for an unauthorized launch is a bit more than $200k per satellite. Be sure to put that in your budget.

Santa Claws! Liberty Games would like to donate to a charity this holiday season, but you can’t just write a check. That’s not fun. Instead, they connected a claw machine to the Internet, and anyone can play it. Setting up a webcam was easy enough, but they also had to move the claw and press the button over the Internet. A Raspberry Pi came to the rescue.

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, mankind’s first trip beyond Earth orbit. Now, using Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data, NASA has reconstructed the famous ‘Earthrise’ photo taken by the crew. It’s in 4K, and we’re getting a great diagram of what pictures were taken when, through which window.

It’s that time of year again, and the 176th Air Defense Squadron is on high alert. This squadron, based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska has the AWACS in the air, on patrol, just waiting for the inevitable. You can take a look at their progress here, and please be sure to keep our service members in your thoughts this holiday season.

Show off your sculpture skills with small bits of wire! Get the blowtorch out because copper work hardens! [Roger] can’t enter the Circuit Sculpture contest, but he did manage to give a body to one of the Tindie heads.

Shushing Sonic Booms: NASA’s Supersonic X-Plane to Take Flight in 2021

The history of aviation is full of notable X-Planes, a number of which heralded in new generations of flight. The Bell X-1 became the first aircraft to break the speed of sound during level flight in 1947 with the legendary Charles “Chuck” Yeager at the controls. A few years later the X-2 would push man up to Mach 3, refining our understanding of supersonic flight. In the 1960’s, the North American built X-15 would not only take us to the edge of space, but set a world speed record which remains unbroken.

Compared to the heady post-war days when it seemed the sky was quite literally the limit, X-Planes in the modern era have become more utilitarian in nature. They are often proposed but never built, and if they do get built, the trend has been towards unmanned subscale vehicles due to their lower cost and risk. The few full-scale piloted X-Planes of the 21st century have largely been prototypes for new military fighter jets rather than scientific research aircraft.

But thanks to a commitment from NASA, the Lockheed Martin X-59 might finally break that trend and become another historic vehicle worthy of the X-Plane lineage. Construction has already begun on the X-59, and the program has recently passed a rigorous design and timeline overview by NASA officials which confirmed the agency’s intent to financially and logistically support the development of the aircraft through their Low Boom Flight Demonstrator initiative. If successful, the X-59 will not only help refine the technology for the next generation of commercial supersonic aircraft, but potentially help change the laws which have prevented such aircraft from operating over land in the United States since 1973.

Continue reading “Shushing Sonic Booms: NASA’s Supersonic X-Plane to Take Flight in 2021”

Generative Design Algorithms Prepare For Space

NASA is famously risk-averse, taking cautious approaches because billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake and each failure receives far more political attention than their many successes. So while moving the final frontier outward requires adopting new ideas, those ideas must first prove themselves through a lengthy process of risk-reduction. Autodesk’s research into generative design algorithms has just taken a significant step on this long journey with a planetary lander concept.

It was built jointly with a research division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the birthplace of many successful interplanetary space probes. This project got a foot in the door by promising 30% weight savings over conventional design techniques. Large reduction in launch mass is always a good way to get a space engineer’s attention! Mimicking mother nature’s evolutionary process, these algorithms output very organic looking shapes. This is a relatively new approach to design optimization under exploration by multiple engineering software vendors. Not just Autodesk’s “Generative Design” but also “Topology Optimization” in SolidWorks, plus others. Though these shapes appear ideally suited to 3D printing, Autodesk also had to prove their algorithm could work with more traditional fabrication techniques like 5-axis CNC mills.

This is leading-edge research technology though some less specialized, customer-ready versions are starting to trickle out of research labs. Starting with an exclusive circle: People with right tiers of SolidWorks license, the paid (not free) tier of Autodesk Fusion 360, etc. We’ve looked at another recent project with nontraditional organic shapes, and we’ve looked at generative designs used for their form as well as their function. This category of CAD tools hold a lot of promise, and we’re optimistic they’ll soon become widely accessible so we can all put them to good use in our earthbound projects.

Possibly even before they fly to another planet.

[via Engadget]

Kepler Closes Eyes After a Decade of Discovery

Since its launch in March 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope has provided us with an incredible amount of data about exoplanets within our galaxy, proving these worlds are more varied and numerous than we could ever have imagined. Before its launch we simply didn’t know how common planets such as ours were, but today we know the Milky Way contains billions of them. Some of these worlds are so hot they have seas of molten rock, others experience two sunsets a day as they orbit a pair of stars. Perhaps most importantly, thousands of the planets found by Kepler are much like our own: potentially playing host to life as we know it.

Kepler lived a fruitful life by any metric, but it hasn’t been an easy one. Too far into deep space for us to repair it as we did Hubble, hardware failures aboard the observatory nearly brought the program to a halt in 2013. When NASA announced the spacecraft was beyond hope of repair, most assumed the mission would end. Even by that point, Kepler was an unqualified success and had provided us with enough data to keep astronomers busy for years. But an ingenious fix was devised, allowing it to continue collecting data even in its reduced capacity.

Leaning into the solar wind, Kepler was able to use the pressure of sunlight striking its solar panels to steady itself. Kepler’s “eyesight” was never quite the same after the failure of its reaction wheels, and it consumed more propellant than originally intended to maintain this careful balancing act, but the science continued. The mission that had already answered many of our questions about our place in the galaxy would push ahead in spite of a failure which should have left it dead in space.

As Kepler rapidly burned through its supply of propellant, it became clear the mission was on borrowed time. It was a necessary evil, as the alternative was leaving the craft tumbling through space, but mission planners understood that the fix they implemented had put an expiration date on Kepler. Revised calculations could provide an estimate as to when the vehicle would finally run its tanks dry and lose attitude control, but not a definitive date.

For the last several months NASA has known the day was approaching, but they decided to keep collecting data until the vehicle’s thrusters sputtered and failed. So today’s announcement that Kepler has at long last lost the ability to orient itself came as no surprise. Kepler has observed its last alien sunset, but the search for planets, and indeed life, in our corner of the galaxy doesn’t end today.

Continue reading “Kepler Closes Eyes After a Decade of Discovery”

International Space Station is Racing the Clock After Soyuz Failure

Today’s failed Soyuz launch thankfully resulted in no casualties, but the fate of the International Space Station (ISS) is now in question.

Just two minutes after liftoff, the crew of the Soyuz MS-10 found themselves in a situation that every astronaut since the beginning of the manned space program has trained for, but very few have ever had to face: a failure during launch. Today the crew of two, Russian Aleksey Ovchinin and American Nick Hague, were forced to make a ballistic re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere; a wild ride that put them through higher G forces than expected and dropped the vehicle approximately 430 km from the launch site in Baikonur. Both men walked away from the event unharmed, but while the ordeal is over for them, it’s just beginning for the crew of the ISS.

Until a full investigation can be completed by Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, the Soyuz rocket is grounded. This is standard procedure, as they obviously don’t want to launch another rocket and risk encountering the same issue. But as the Soyuz is currently the only way we have to get humans into space, this means new crew can’t be sent to the ISS until Roscosmos is confident the issue has been identified and resolved.

Soyuz MS-11, which would have brought up three new crew members to relieve those already on the Station, was scheduled for liftoff on December 20th. While not yet officially confirmed, that mission is almost certainly not going to be launching as scheduled. Two months is simply not long enough to conduct an investigation into such a major event when human lives are on the line.

The failure of Soyuz MS-10 has started a domino effect which will deprive the ISS of the five crew members which were scheduled to be aboard by the end of 2018. To make matters worse, the three current crew members must return to Earth before the end of the year as well. NASA and Roscosmos will now need to make an unprecedented decision which could lead to abandoning the International Space Station; the first time it would be left unmanned since the Expedition 1 mission arrived in November 2000.

Continue reading “International Space Station is Racing the Clock After Soyuz Failure”

Friday Hack Chat: Is There Life On Mars?

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid. In fact, it’s cold as hell. There’s no one there to raise them if you did, or is there? Is there life on Mars? That’s the question NASA has been trying to answer for the last forty years, and with the new Mars rover, we might get closer to an answer. For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking with the people responsible for some interesting instruments flying on the Mars 2020 rover.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Matteo Borri], an Italian engineer who’s been living in the US for the better part of a decade now. He’s had various projects ranging from robotics — including a BattleBot — AI, and aerospace. [Matteo] is also one of the engineers behind the Vampire Charger, a winner in the Power Harvesting Module Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Right now, [Matteo] is working on an interesting project that’s going to fly on the next Mars rover. He’s developed a chlorophyll spectroscope for NASA and the Mars Society. This week, [Matteo] is going to share the details of how this device works and how it was developed.

During this Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing various technology that’s going into the search for life on Mars and elsewhere in the galaxy such as:

  • Chlorophyll detection
  • Mars Rovers
  • Various other hardware hacks

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hacking with Fire event page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.


Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Friday, October 5th, at noon, Pacific time. We have some amazing time conversion technology.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Apollo 12 Was the Lucky Number Among Apollo Disasters

I recently saw Apollo 13 again — this time with the score played live by the Houston Symphony. What a crazy coincidence that thirteen has long been considered an unlucky number and that Apollo 13 would be the one we almost lost. However, Apollo 12 almost became a disaster which — after the ordeal with flight 13 — was largely forgotten.

When all was said and done, Apollo 12 would result in a second manned moon landing in November 1969, just four months after Apollo 11. Commanded by Pete Conrad, Alan Bean accompanied Conrad to the surface while Richard Gordon, Jr. kept the getaway vehicle running. But less than a minute after launch something happened that could have been a disaster. Lightning struck the vehicle.

Continue reading “Apollo 12 Was the Lucky Number Among Apollo Disasters”