The popular press was recently abuzz with sad news from the planet Mars: Opportunity, the little rover that could, could do no more. It took an astonishing 15 years for it to give up the ghost, and it took a planet-wide dust storm that blotted out the sun and plunged the rover into apocalyptically dark and cold conditions to finally kill the machine. It lived 37 times longer than its 90-sol design life, producing mountains of data that will take another 15 years or more to fully digest.
Entire careers were unexpectedly built around Opportunity – officially but bloodlessly dubbed “Mars Exploration Rover-B”, or MER-B – as it stubbornly extended its mission and overcame obstacles both figurative and literal. But “Oppy” is far from the only long-duration success that NASA can boast about. Now that Opportunity has sent its last data, it seems only fitting to celebrate the achievement with a look at exactly how machines and missions can survive and thrive so long in the harshest possible conditions.
Continue reading “Engineering for the Long Haul, the NASA Way”
Back in April we reported on the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station which carried, along with supplies and experiments for the orbiting outpost, the RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft. Developed by the University of Surrey, RemoveDEBRIS was designed as the world’s first practical demonstration of what’s known as Active Debris Removal (ADR) technology. It included not only a number of different technologies for ensnaring nearby objects, it even brought along deployable targets to use them on.
Orbital debris (often referred to simply as “space junk”) is a serious threat to all space-faring nations, and has become even more pressing of a concern as the cost of orbital launches have dropped precipitously over the last few years, accelerating number and frequency of new objects entering orbit. The results of these first of their kind tests have therefore been hotly anticipated, as the technology to actively remove debris from Low Earth orbit (LEO) is seen by many in the industry to be a key element of expanding access to space for commercial purposes.
Six months after its arrival in space we’ve now starting to see the first results of the groundbreaking tests performed by the RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft, and so far it’s very promising.
Continue reading “Space Garbage Truck Passes its First Test”
Space elevators belong to that class of technology that we all want to see become a reality within our lifetimes, but deep-down doubt we’ll ever get to witness firsthand. Like cold fusion, or faster than light travel, we understand the principles that should make these concepts possible, but they’re so far beyond our technical understanding that they might as well be fantasy.
Except, maybe not. When Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launches their seventh Kounotori H-II Transfer Vehicle towards the International Space Station, riding along with the experiments and supplies for the astronauts, will be a very special pair of CubeSats. They make up the world’s first practical test of space elevator technology, and with any luck, will be one of many small steps that precedes the giant leap which access to space at a fraction of the cost will be.
Of course, they won’t be testing a fully functional space elevator; even the most aggressive of timelines put us a few decades out from that. This will simply be a small scale test of some of the concepts that are central to building a space elevator, as we need to learn to crawl before we can walk. But even if we aren’t around to see the first practical space elevator make it to the top, at least we can say we were there on the ground floor.
Continue reading “One Small Step for a Space Elevator”
Deep in the mojave, the largest aircraft ever made will soon be making test flights. This is the Stratolaunch, and it’s measured the largest to ever fly based on wingspan. The Stratolaunch was constructed out of two 747s, and is designed for a single purpose: as a mobile launch platform for orbital rockets.
There are a couple of ways to measure the size of an aircraft. The AN-225 Mriya has the highest payload capacity, but only one of those was ever built (though that might change soon). The Spruce Goose was formerly the largest aircraft by wingspan, but it only flew once, and only in ground effect. The Stratolaunch is in another category entirely. This is an aircraft that contains some of the largest composite structures on the planet. Not only can you park a school bus between the fuselages of the Stratolaunch, you can strap that school bus to the plane and carry it up to 30,000 feet.
But why build this astonishing aircraft? The reasons go back more than a decade, and the end result is a spaceplane.
Continue reading “The Largest Aircraft Ever Built Will Soon Launch Rockets To Space”
That the Cold War was a tense and perilous time in history cannot be denied, and is perhaps a bit of an understatement. The world stood on the edge of Armageddon for most of it, occasionally stepping slightly over the line, and thankfully stepping back before any damage was done.
As nerve-wracking as the Cold War was, it had one redeeming quality: it turned us into a spacefaring species. Propelled by national pride and the need to appear to be the biggest kid on the block, the United States and the Soviet Union consistently ratcheted up their programs, trying to be the first to make the next major milestone. The Soviets made most of the firsts, making Sputnik and Gagarin household names all over the world. But in 1962, they laid down a marker for a first of epic proportions, and one that would sadly stand alone for the next 19 years: they put the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space.
Continue reading “The Flight of the Seagull: Valentina Tereshkova, Cosmonaut”
Even when you bear a passing resemblance to the paranoid Auror of the Harry Potter universe, you still really need that wonky and wandering prosthetic eye to really sell that Mad-Eye Moody cosplay, and this one is pretty impressive.
Of course, there’s more to the [daronjay]’s prosthetic peeper than an eBay doll’s eye. There’s the micro-servo that swivels the orb, as well as a Trinket to send the PWM signal and a pocket full of batteries. The fit and finish really tie it together, though, especially considering that it’s made from, well, garbage — a metal food jar lid, a yogurt cup, and the tube of a roll-on antiperspirant. Some brass screws and a leather strap evoke the necessary Potter-verse look, and coupled with what we assume are prosthetic scars, [daronjay] really brings the character to life. We think it would be cool to have the servo eye somehow slaved to the movements of the real eye, with a little randomness thrown in to make it look good.
Marauder’s maps, wand duels, Weasley clocks — the wizarding world is ripe for creative hacking and prop making. What’s next — a Nimbus 2000 quadcopter? Please?
Continue reading “Servo-Controlled Eyeball Makes a Muggle Moody”
The combination of time-lapse photography and slow camera panning can be quite hypnotic – think of those cool sunset to nightfall shots where the camera slowly pans across a cityscape with car lights zooming by. [Frank Howarth] wanted to replicate such shots in his shop, and came up with this orbiting overhead time-lapse rig for his GoPro.
[Frank] clearly cares about the photography in his videos. Everything is well lit, he uses wide-open apertures for shallow depth of field shots, and the editing and post-production effects are top notch. So a good quality build was in order for this rig, which as the video below shows, will be used for overhead shots during long sessions at the lathe and other machines. The gears for this build were designed with [Matthias Wandel]’s gear template app and cut from birch plywood with a CNC router. Two large gears and two small pinions gear down the motor enough for a slow, smooth orbit. The GoPro is mounted on a long boom and pointed in and down; the resulting shots are smooth and professional looking, with the money shot being that last look at [Frank]’s dream shop.
If you haven’t seen [Frank]’s YouTube channel, you might want to check it out. While his material of choice is dead tree carcasses, his approach to projects and the machines and techniques he employs are great stuff. We featured his bamboo Death Star recently, and if you check out his CNC router build, you’ll see [Frank] is far from a one-trick pony.
Continue reading “Time Lapse Rig Puts GoPro into Orbit – in Your Shop”