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Hackaday Links: September 5, 2021

Good news from Jezero crater as the Mars rover Perseverance manages to accomplish for the first time what it was sent to do: collect and cache core samples from rocks. Space buffs will no doubt recall that Perseverance’s first attempt at core sampling didn’t go as planned — the rock that planetary scientists selected ended up being too soft, and the percussive coring bit just turned the core sample into powder. The latest attempt went exactly as planned: the cylindrical coring bit made a perfect cut, the core slipped into the sample tube nested inside the coring bit, and the core broke off cleanly inside the sample tube when it was cammed off-axis. Operators were able to provide visible proof that the core sample was retained this time using the Mastcam-Z instrument, which clearly shows the core in the sample tube. What’s neat is that they then performed a “percuss to ingest” maneuver, where the coring bit and sample tube are vibrated briefly, so that the core sample and any dust grains left around the sealing rim slide down into the sample tube. The next step is to transfer the sample tube to the belly of the rover where it’ll be hermetically sealed after some basic analysis.

Did any Android users perhaps oversleep this week? If you did, you’re not alone — lots of users of the Google Clock app reported that their preset alarms didn’t go off. Whether it was an actual issue caused by an update or some kind of glitch is unclear, but it clearly didn’t affect everyone; my phone mercilessly reminded me when 6:00 AM came around every day last week. But it apparently tripped up some users, to the point where one reported losing his job because of being late for work. Not to be judgmental, but it seems to me that if your job is so sensitive to you being late, it might make sense to have a backup alarm clock of some sort. We all seem to be a little too trusting that our phones are going to “just work,” and when they don’t, we’re surprised and appalled.

There seem to be two kinds of people in the world — those who hate roller coasters, and those who love them. I’m firmly in the latter camp, and will gladly give any coaster, no matter how extreme, a try. There have been a few that I later regretted, of course, but by and large, the feeling of being right on the edge of bodily harm is pretty cool. Crossing over the edge, though, is far less enjoyable, as the owners of an extreme coaster in Japan are learning. The Dodon-pa coaster at the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park is capable of hitting 112 miles (180 km) per hour and has racked up a sizable collection of injuries over the last ten months, including cervical and thoracic spine fractures. The ride is currently closed for a safety overhaul; one has to wonder what they’re doing to assess what the problem areas of the ride are. Perhaps they’re sending crash test dummies on endless rides to gather data, a sight we’d like to see.

And finally, you may have thought that phone phreaking was a thing of the past; in a lot of ways, you’d be right. But there’s still a lot to be learned about how POTS networks were put together, and this phone switch identification guide should be a big help to any phone geeks out there. Be ready to roll old school here — nothing but a plain text file that describes how to probe the switch that a phone is connected just by listening to things like dial tones and ring sounds. What’s nice is that it describes why the switches sound the way they do, so you get a lot of juicy technical insights into how switches work.

No Hole In One: Perseverance Strikes Out On First Mars Core Attempt

There’s a military adage that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. While we haven’t gone to war with Mars, at least not yet, it does seem to be a place where the best-laid scientific plans are tested in the extreme. And the apparent failure of Perseverance to retrieve its first Martian core sample is yet another example of just how hard it is to perform geotechnical operations on another planet.

To be sure, a lot about the first sampling operation went right, an especially notable feat in that the entire process is autonomous. And as we’ve previously detailed, the process is not simple, involving three separate robotic elements that have to coordinate their operations perfectly. Telemetry indicates that the percussive drill on the end of the 2.1 m robotic arm was able to use its hollow coring bit to drill into the rock of Jezero crater, and that the sample tube inside the coring bit was successfully twisted to break off the core sample.

But what was supposed to happen next — jamming of the small core sample inside the sample tube — appears not to have happened. This was assessed by handing the sample tube off to the Sample Handling Arm in the belly of Perseverance, where a small probe is used to see how much material was recovered — none, in this case. NASA/JPL engineers then began a search for the problem. Engineering cameras didn’t reveal the core sample on the Martian surface, meaning the sample handling robots didn’t drop it. The core sample wasn’t in the borehole either, which would have meant the camming mechanism designed to retain the core didn’t work. The borehole, though, looked suspicious — it appears not to be deep enough, as if the core sample crumbled to dust and packed into the bottom of the hole.

If this proves to be the cause of the failure, it will be yet another example of Martian regolith not behaving as expected. For InSight, this discovery was a death knell to a large part of its science program. Thankfully, Perseverance can pick up and move to better rock, which is exactly what it will be doing in September. They still have 42 unused sample tubes to go, so here’s to better luck next time.

[Featured images: NASA/JPL-Caltech]

3D-Printed Scale Model Of Perseverance Rover Seems As Complicated As The Real One

Sometimes the best way to figure out how something works is to make a model of it. 3D-modeling software makes it possible to do the job in silico, and sometimes that’s enough. But to really get inside the designer’s head, executing a physical model, like this quarter-scale RC-controlled Perseverance rover, is a great way to go.

If you’re looking for cutting-edge tech or groundbreaking design, this build will probably not light your fire. But a closer look will show not only great details about how JPL designs robots that can operate on Mars, but some great design and 3D-printing tips too. [Dejan]’s modeling process started with the 3D renderings of Perseverance available on the NASA website, which went into SolidWorks via Blender. [Dejan] was intent on capturing all the details of the rover, even those that ended up just for looks. But there’s plenty of functionality, too — the running gear looks and functions just like the six-wheel double-bogie design used on Perseverance, as well as Curiosity before it. This revealed an interesting fact that we didn’t previously realize — that the hull is suspended from a single pivot point on each side, while a linkage across the deck both prevents the body from pivoting and provides differential control of the drive bogies on either side of the rover.

The video below shows both the impressive amount of 3D printing needed to make all the model’s parts as well as the involved assembly process. It also shows the Arduino-controlled model being piloted around via radio control. There’s a lot to learn from this model, and [Dejan]’s craftsmanship here is top-notch too. We’ve seen such builds before from him, like this 3D-printed SCARA arm, a CNC hot-wire foam cutter, and an automated wire bender.

Continue reading “3D-Printed Scale Model Of Perseverance Rover Seems As Complicated As The Real One”

3D Printed Mars Rover Smiles For The Camera

You’d be forgiven for thinking these pictures of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover were renderings of the real deal on the Red Planet, if it wasn’t for the golf ball tucked in for scale, anyway. What you’re actually looking at is a 3D printed model made by [Alex Givens] that he brought out to the desert for a photo shoot by his friend [Josh Jalil].

[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.

The highly detailed Perseverance model came from the space agency’s extensive “3D Resources” collection, which has models for an incredible array of present and historical spacecraft. They’ve also got models for a number of interesting astronomical objects, just in case you’re in the market for a 3D printed asteroid or two.

We know, this isn’t exactly a hack in the traditional sense. But it’s a fantastic reminder of a great resource from NASA, as well as a practical demonstration of how high quality photographs can really bring a project to life.

Ingenuity Completes Fourth Flight On Mars, Gets A New Mission

It’s the same on Mars as it is here — just when you’re getting used to your job, the bosses go and change things up.

At least that’s our read on the situation at Jezero crater, where the Mars Ingenuity helicopter has just had its mission upgraded and extended. In a Friday morning press conference, the Ingenuity flight team, joined by members of the Perseverance team and some NASA brass, made the announcement that Ingenuity had earned an extra 30 sols of flight time, and would be transitioned from a mere “technology demonstrator” to an “operations demonstration” phase. They also announced Ingenuity’s fourth flight, which concluded successfully today, covering 266 meters and staying airborne for 117 seconds.

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Hackaday Links: April 18, 2021

More bad news from Mars this week, and this time not just from Perseverance. Last week the eagerly anticipated first flight of the helicopter Ingenuity was delayed for a couple of days after failing a full-speed spin-up test of its rotors. That appears to have been a bigger deal than initially thought, as it required a significant rewrite of the helicopter’s software. That meant testing, of course, and subsequent upload to the UAV, which at 174 million miles away takes a bit of doing. The good news is that they were able to complete the full-speed rotor test without the full program upload, so we’re one step closer to flight, which may take place as early as Monday morning.

Meanwhile, over at Elysium Planitia, the Mars InSight lander has troubles of its own. The geophysical laboratory, which has been trying to explore the inner structure of Mars since landing in 2018, entered an “emergency hibernation” state this week because of a lack of sufficient power generation. Unlike the radioisotope-powered Perseverance rover, InSight relies on a pair of solar panels for its electricity, and those panels are being obscured by Martian dust. The panels normally get blown clean by Martian winds, but things have been calm lately and the dust has really built up. If this seems like deja vu all over again, it’s probably because a planet-wide dust storm is what killed the plucky Opportunity rover back in 2018. Here’s hoping the wind picks up a little and InSight can get back to work.

Funny what crops up in one’s newsfeed, especially when one is responsible for putting out content that populates others’ newsfeeds. We recently took a look at the dangers of “zinc fever”, a flu-like illness that can crop up after inhaling gasses produced by molten zinc. That resulted in stumbling across an article from last year about mild steel welding fumes being classified as a human carcinogen. This comes from the Health and Safety Executive, a UK government agency concerned with workplace health issues. The release is an interesting read, and it suggests that mild steel fumes can cause not only lung cancer but kidney cancer. The announcement is mainly concerned with British workplaces, of course, but there are some interesting tidbits in there, such as the fact that welding fumes make dust particles so small that they can reach down into the very lowest reaches of lungs, the alveoli where gas exchange occurs. It’s enough to make one invest in PAPR or some kind of fume extractor.

For those of a certain vintage, our first computer was probably something that bore little resemblance to a PC or laptop. It was likely a single-board affair or something like a C64, and acquiring the essential bit of hardware usually left little in the budget for a proper monitor. Little 12″ B&W TVs were a dime a dozen, though, and easily — if grainily — enlisted into service as a monitor by way of an RF modulator. To recreate a little of that magic with modern hardware, Hackaday contributor Adam Zeloof came up with the PiMod Zero, an RF-modulator hat for the Raspberry Pi Zero that turns the component video into an NTSC analog signal. He’s open-sourced the design files, or there’s a CrowdSupply campaign for those who prefer to buy.

And finally, if you somehow traveled back in time to the 1940s with a laptop, how long would it have taken you to crack the Enigma code? Longer than you think, at least according to Dr. Mike Pound over at Computerphile, who released a fascinating video on how Enigma worked and what it took for Turing and the gang at Bletchley to crack the code. We knew some of the details of Enigma’s workings before seeing this video, but Mike’s explanation was really good. And, his explanation of the shortcut method he used to decode an Enigma message made the whole process clearer to us than it’s ever been. Interesting stuff.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: April 18, 2021”

Spacing Out: StarShip Explodes (Again), Passenger Space Flight, Space Bugs, Astronaut Bone, And Martian Water

This time I promise I only have a couple of stories from Elon Musk’s company. SpaceX’s latest Starship test launch ended in another explosion, proving that space hardware remains hard to get right. We’ll keep watching as they keep launching, and it can’t be long until they’ve ironed out all the problems. Meanwhile there’s brighter news from the company’s Crew Dragon, a modified version of the capsule with the forward docking ring replaced by a transparent dome is planned for launch in September with the company’s first flight carrying civilian passengers. It’s doubtless unwelcome news for Virgin Galactic, whose suborbital passenger flights are edging closer to reality with the unveiling of their first SpaceShip III craft. Finally, a Falcon 9 upper stage broke up on re-entry over the northwestern USA, giving observers on the ground a spactacular show.

Spectacular view of the Falcon 9 debris. Via Lu Jerz

Meanwhile up there in orbit there have been found on the ISS some strains of bacteria previously unknown to scientists on Earth, but it’s not yet time to panic about Mutant Bugs From Space. It seems these bacteria are of a type that is essential in the growing of plants, so it’s likely they originally hitched a ride up with one of the several plant-growing experiments that have taken place over the station’s lifetime. Staying on the ISS, astronauts visiting the station have been at the centre of a recently published study looking at loss of bone density over long periods in space. The bone experts found that bone density could still be lost despite the astronauts’ in-flight exercise programs, and concluded that exercise regimes pre-flight should be taken into account for future in-orbit exercise planning.

Further away from Earth, the ESA Mars Express satellite has been used for a multi-year study of water loss to space from the Martian atmosphere. The ESA scientists identified the seasonal mechanism that leads to the planet’s upper atmosphere having an excess of water and in particular the effect of the periodic planet-wide dust storms on accelerating water loss, but failed to account for the water that they estimate Mars must have lost over its history. From a study of water-created surface features they can estimate how much liquid the planet once had, yet the atmospheric losses fail to account for it all. Has it disappeared underground? More studies are required before we’ll have an answer.

The exciting news over the coming days will no doubt be the Ingenuity Martian helicopter, which we have seen slowly unfolding itself prior to unloading from the belly of the Perseverence rover. If all goes according to plan the little craft will be set down before the rover trundles off to a safe distance, and the historic flight will take place on April 8th. We’ll be on the edges of our seats, and no doubt you will be, too.