Hey NASA, Do You Want Your Stuff Back?

What would you do if you found hidden away artifacts of aerospace technology from the Apollo era?

You call NASA.

Two hulking computers — likely necessitating the use of a crane to move them — and hundreds of tape reels were discovered in the basement of a former IBM engineer by their heir and a scrap dealer cleaning out the deceased’s home. Labels are scarce, and those that are marked are mostly from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, including data from the Pioneer 8 to 11 missions, as well as the Helios missions.

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Humans May Have Accidentally Created a Radiation Shield Around Earth


NASA spends a lot of time researching the Earth and its surrounding space environment. One particular feature of interest are the Van Allen belts, so much so that NASA built special probes to study them! They’ve now discovered a protective bubble they believe has been generated by human transmissions in the VLF range.

VLF transmissions cover the 3-30 kHz range, and thus bandwidth is highly limited. VLF hardware is primarily used to communicate with submarines, often to remind them that, yes, everything is still fine and there’s no need to launch the nukes yet.  It’s also used for navigation and broadcasting time signals.

It seems that this human transmission has created a barrier of sorts in the atmosphere that protects it against radiation from space. Interestingly, the outward edge of this “VLF Bubble” seems to correspond very closely with the innermost edge of the Van Allen belts caused by Earth’s magnetic field. What’s more, the inner limit of the Van Allan belts now appears to be much farther away from the Earth’s surface than it was in the 1960s, which suggests that man-made VLF transmissions could be responsible for pushing the boundary outwards.

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PUFFER: A Smartphone-Sized Planetary Explorer

Is there room on Mars and Europa for cute robots? [NASA] — collaborating with [UC Berkley] and [Distant Focus Corporation] — have the answer: PUFFER, a robot inspired by origami.

PUFFER — which stands for Pop-Up Flat-Folding Explorer Robot — is able to sense objects and adjust its profile accordingly by ‘folding’ itself into a smaller size to fit itself into nooks and crannies. It was designed so multiple PUFFERs could reside inside a larger craft and then be deployed to scout otherwise inaccessible terrain. Caves, lava tubes and shaded rock overhangs that could shelter organic material are prime candidates for exploration. The groups of PUFFERs will send the collected info back to the mother ship to be relayed to mother Earth.

We’ve embedded the video of the bot folding it’s wheels down to pass a low-bridge. You can get a view of the wider scope of functionality for the collection of demos on the project page.

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NASA’s 2017-2018 Software Catalog is Out

Need some help sizing your beyond-low-Earth-orbit vehicle? Request NASA’s BLAST software. Need to forecast the weather on Venus? That would be Venus-GRAM (global reference atmospheric model). Or maybe you just want to play around with the NASA Tensegrity Robotics Toolkit. (We do!) Then it’s a good thing that part of NASA’s public mandate is making their software available. And the 2017-2018 Software Catalog (PDF) has just been released.

Unfortunately, not everything that NASA does is open source, and a substantial fraction of the software suites are only available for code “to be used on behalf of the U.S. Government”. But still, it’s very cool that NASA is opening up as much of their libraries as they are. Where else are you going to get access to orbital debris engineering models or cutting-edge fluid dynamics modelers and solvers, for free?

We already mentioned this in the Links column, but we think it’s worth repeating because we could use your help. The catalog is 154 pages long, and we haven’t quite finished leaf through every page. If you see anything awesome inside, let us know in the comments. Do any of you already use NASA’s open-source software?

Hackaday Links: March 12, 2017

The world’s first public installation of a solar roadway caught fire or something.

Hey hardware nerds in the UK! Nottingham is having its first monthly hardware meetup. This get together is being put together by [Spencer], creator of the extremely popular RC2014 Homebrew Z80 computer kit. The meetup is free, and it’s happening this Tuesday.

[danjovic] sent in a link to this YouTube channel of a guy building stuff out of PVC sheets and CA glue. There’s a lot of stuff in here from a PVC tripod to instructions on how to get PVC sheets out of PVC pipe. Small warning: this is PVC, and it will kill you instantly, for reasons we can’t yet determine. Additionally, he’s heating PVC, which means cancer for your yet-unborn great-grandchildren. How it both kills you while still allowing you to breed is beyond our comprehension. That’s how bad PVC really is.

NASA has updated their available software catalog. If you want to go to Saturn, you first have to go to Venus three times. Here’s a tool that packs batteries. You should build a router for the interplanetary Internet.

[jlbrian7] is Breaking Android over on Hackaday.io

Last week, we had a Raspberry Pi Hack Chat with [Roger Thornton], the principal hardware engineer at Raspberry Pi. We talked about the hardware that goes into the Raspberry Pi (and the new Pi Zero W), and gave away a few Pi Zero Ws to a few people on hackaday.io that had great ideas for a project. One of the winners of a free Raspberry Pi Zero W was [arsenijs] for his Raspberry Pi Project. This is a really great project that uses a Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi accessories. It’s pushing the envelope of what a Pi can be, and a free Raspberry Pi Zero W couldn’t have gone to a more worthy project.

What are you doing the weekend of March 31st? We’re going to New Jersey for the Vintage Computer Festival East. This is one of the better cons we go to. Maybe this year we’ll organize a trip to the pinball museum in Asbury Park.

The SmallSat Launcher War

Over the last decade or so the definition of what a ‘small satellite’ is has ballooned beyond the original cubesat design specification to satellites of 50 or 100 kg. Today a ‘smallsat’ is defined far more around the cost, and sometimes the technologies used, than the size and shape of the box that goes into orbit.

There are now more than fifty companies working on launch vehicles dedicated to lifting these small satellites into orbit, and while nobody really expects all of those to survive the next few years, it’s going to be an interesting time in the launcher market. Because I have a sneaking suspicion that Jeff Bezos’ statement that “there’s not that much interesting about cubesats” may well turn out to be the twenty first century’s “nobody needs more than 640kb,” and it’s possible that everybody is wrong about how many of the launcher companies will survive in the long term.

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Steve Collins: When Things Go Wrong In Space

[Steve Collins] is a regular around Hackaday. He’s brought homebrew LIDARs to our regular meetups, he’s given a talk on a lifetime’s worth of hacking, and he is the owner of the most immaculate Hackaday t-shirt we’ve ever seen.

For the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference,  [Steve] took a break from his day job of driving spacecraft around the Solar System. As you can imagine, NASA plans on things going wrong. How do you plan for that? [Steve] answers all your questions by telling you what happens when things go wrong in space.

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