Join us on Wednesday, December 11 at noon Pacific for the Open-Source Satellite Propulsion Hack Chat with Michael Bretti!
When you look back on the development history of any technology, it’s clear that the successful products eventually reach an inflection point, the boundary between when it was a niche product and when it seems everyone has one. Take 3D-printers, for instance; for years you needed to build one if you wanted one, but now you can buy them in the grocery store.
It seems like we might be getting closer to the day when satellites reach a similar inflection point. What was once the province of nations with deep pockets and military muscles to flex has become far more approachable to those of more modest means. While launching satellites is still prohibitive and will probably remain so for years to come, building them has come way, way down the curve lately, such that amateur radio operators have constellations of satellites at their disposal, small companies are looking seriously at what satellites can offer, and even STEM programs are starting to get students involved in satellite engineering.
Michael Bretti is on the leading edge of the trend toward making satellites more DIY friendly. He formed Applied Ion Systems to address one of the main problems nano-satellites face: propulsion. He is currently working on a range of open-source plasma thrusters for PocketQube satellites, a format that’s an eighth the size of the popular CubeSat format. His solid-fuel electric thrusters are intended to help these diminutive satellites keep station and stay in orbit longer than their propulsion-less cousins. And if all goes well, someday you’ll be able to buy them off-the-shelf.
Join us for the Hack Chat as Michael discusses the design of plasma thrusters, the details of his latest testing, and the challenges of creating something that needs to work in space.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, December 11 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.
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 Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
Leaving no stone unturned in his quest for alternative and improbable ways to generate lift, [Tom Stanton] has come up with some interesting aircraft over the years. But this time he isn’t exactly flying, with this unusual Coandă effect hovercraft.
If you’re not familiar with the Coandă effect, neither were we until [Tom] tried to harness it for a quadcopter. The idea is that air moving at high speed across a curved surface will tend to follow it, meaning that lift can be generated. [Tom]’s original Coandă-copter was a bit of a bust – yes, there was lift, but it wasn’t much and wasn’t easy to control. He did notice that there was a strong ground effect, though, and that led him to design the hovercraft. Traditional hovercraft use fans to pressurize a plenum under the craft, lifting it on a low-friction cushion of air. The Coandă hovercraft uses the airflow over the curved hull to generate lift, which it does surprisingly well. The hovercraft proved to be pretty peppy once [Tom] got the hang of controlling it, although it seemed prone to lifting off as it maneuvered over bumps in his backyard. We wonder if a control algorithm could be devised to reduce the throttle if an accelerometer detects lift-off; that might make keeping the craft on the ground a bit easier.
As always, we appreciate [Tom]’s builds as well as his high-quality presentation. But if oddball quadcopters or hovercraft aren’t quite your thing, you can always put the Coandă effect to use levitating screwdrivers and the like.
Continue reading “Coandă Effect Makes A Better Hovercraft Than A Quadcopter”
It seems as though every week we see something that clearly shows we’re living in the future. The components we routinely incorporate into our projects would have seemed like science fiction only a few short years ago, but now we buy them online and have them shipped to us for pennies. And what can say we’ve arrived in the future more than off-the-shelf plasma thrusters for the DIY microsatellite market?
Although [Michael Bretti] does tell us that he plans to sell these thrusters eventually, they’re not quite ready for the market yet. The AIS-gPPT3-1C series that’s currently under testing is designed for the micro-est of satellites, the PocketQube, a format with a unit size only 5 cm on a side – an eighth the size of a 1U CubeSat. The thrusters are solid-fueled, with blocks of Teflon, PEEK, or Ultem that are ablated by a stream of plasma. The gaseous exhaust is accelerated and shaped by a magnetic nozzle that’s integrated right into the thruster. The thruster is mounted directly to a PCB containing the high-voltage supplies and control electronics to interface with the PocketQube’s systems. The 34-gram thrusters have enough fuel for perhaps 500 firings, although that and the specifics of performance are yet to be tested.
If you have any interest at all in space engineering or propulsion systems, [Michael]’s site is worth a look. There’s a wealth of data there, and reading it will give you a great appreciation for plasma physics. We’ve been down that road a lot lately, with cold plasma, thin-film plasma deposition, and even explaining the mystery of plasmatic grapes.
Thanks to [miguekf] for the tip.
A plane from Britain is met in the US by armed security. The cargo? An experimental engine created by Air Commodore [Frank Whittle], RAF engineer air officer. This engine will be further developed by General Electric under contract to the US government. This is not a Hollywood thriller; it is the story of the jet engine.
The idea of jet power started to get off the ground at the turn of the century. Cornell scholar [Sanford Moss]’ gas turbine thesis led him to work for GE and ultimately for the Army. Soon, aircraft were capable of dropping 2,000 lb. bombs from 15,000 feet to cries of ‘you sank my battleship!’, thus passing [Billy Mitchell]’s famous test.
The World War II-era US Air Force was extremely interested in turbo engines. Beginning in 1941, about 1,000 men were working on a project that only 1/10 were wise to. During this time, American contributions tweaked [Whittle]’s design, improving among other things the impellers and rotor balancing. This was the dawn of radical change in air power.
Six months after the crate arrived and the contracts were signed, GE let ‘er rip in the secret testing chamber. Elsewhere at the Bell Aircraft Corporation, top men had been working concurrently on the Airacomet, which was the first American jet-powered plane ever to take to the skies.
In the name of national defense, GE gave their plans to other manufacturers like Allison to encourage widespread growth. Lockheed’s F-80 Shooting Star, the first operational jet fighter, flew in June 1944 under the power of an Allison J-33 with a remarkable 4,000 pounds of thrust.
GE started a school for future jet engineers and technicians with the primary lesson being the principles of propulsion. The jet engine developed rapidly from this point on.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Jet Story”
Meet [Alex Spiride]. He’s one of the fifteen finalists of the 2013 Google Science Fair. A native of Plano, Texas, [Alex] entered his squid-inspired underwater propulsion system in the 13-14 year old category.
The red cylinder shown in the image inlay is his test rig. It is covered well on his project site linked above. You just need to click around the different pages using the navigation tiles in the upper right to get the whole picture. The propulsion module uses water sprayed out the nozzle to push the enclosure forward. The hull is made of PVC, with a bladder inside which is connected to the nozzle. The bladder is full of water, but the cavity between it and the hull is full of air. Notice the plastic hose which is used to inject pressurized air, squeezing the bladder to propel the water out the nozzle. Pretty neat huh?
We think [Alex’s] work stands on its own. But we can’t help thinking what the next iteration could look like. We wonder what would happen if you wrapped that bladder in muscle wire? Would it be strong enough to squeeze the bladder?
You can see all fifteen finalists at the GSF announcement page. Just don’t be surprised if you see some of those other projects on our front page in the coming days.
Continue reading “Google Science Fair Finalist Explains Squid-inspired Underwater Propulsion”
One advantage that skiers have always had over snowboarders is the ability to move through flat sections with ease. [Matt Gardner] built this prototype to help even the playing field. When he would normally need to kick, hop, or remove the board and walk he can now engage his snowboard battery propulsion system.
The rig works much like a paddle boat. The two wheels sticking out to either side of the board push against the slow to move the board forward. The drive train is built from an RC plane speed controller and battery, a motor and gearbox from an 18V drill from Harbor Freight, and a couple of 3D printed gears and mounting brackets. He used a 3D printer to make one drive wheel, then used that to make a silicone mold to cast the wheels used above. The entire assembly is attached to the board with a door hinge. This way the rig can be rotated out of the way (and we assume strapped to his boot) when he’s shredding down the mountain. When paired with an in-goggle HUD this will take snowboarding to the next level!
Unfortunately since it’s already April there’s no snow left to test it on, which means no demo video. But he does tell us that a test run on both grass and carpet went well.