[Joe] at BPS.space has a thing for rockets, and his latest quest is to build a rocket that will cross the Kármán Line and launch into the Final Frontier. And being the owner of a YouTube channel, he wants to have excellent on-board video that he can share. The trouble? Spinning. A spinning rocket is a stable rocket, especially as altitude increases. So how would [Joe] get stable video from a rocket spinning at several hundred degrees per second? That’s the question being addressed in the video below the break.
Rather than use processing power to stabilize video digitally, [Joe] decided to take a different approach: Cancelling out the spin with a motor, essentially making a camera-wielding reaction wheel that would stay oriented in one direction, no matter how fast the rocket itself is spinning.
Did it work? Yes… and no. The design was intended to be a proof of concept, and in that sense there was a lot of success and some excellent video was taken. But as with many proof of concept prototypes, the spinning camera module has a lot of room for improvement. [Joe] goes into some details about the changes he’ll be making for revision 2, including a different motor and some software improvements. We certainly look forward to seeing the progress!
To get a better idea of the problem that [Joe] is trying to solve, check out this 360 degree rocket cam that we featured a few years ago.
Tightrope walking is no mean feat — it takes years to master (even with a balance rod) — but that’s too much like hard work for [James Bruton]. Obviously, the solution is just a matter of the application of some electronically-controlled balancing technology, and [James] is just the guy for the job. Bearing a passing resemblance to a cross between a prop from Ghostbusters and a medieval torture device, this weighty balancing cheat device almost kind of works!
On a slightly more serious note, bipedal balance is a complex problem to solve. You have multiple limb sections, which can move independently in many ways, as well as the upper body also contributing to shifting around the center of gravity in a hard-to-predict way. So it’s no great surprise that a simple torque reaction device strapped to the torso doesn’t help a great deal, but it sure is fun to watch him trying. The bottom line is this — our bodies are pretty heavy, and the amount of force needed to correct tilt in the plane of interest is hard to generate without the reaction wheel itself being really heavy, and that extra mass doesn’t exactly help with the overall balancing problem. We reckon the overall concept is sound, it’s just that all those extra limbs flopping around make this simplistic sensing and compensation strategy only partly effective.
Stabilizing small robots is probably a bit easier than a human, such as this gyroscopically-stabilized monowheel, but sometimes you don’t even need the gyroscope, as you can control the driving wheels directly.
Once launched, most spacecraft are out of reach of any upgrades or repairs. Mission critical problems must be solved with whatever’s still working on board, and sometimes there’s very little time. Recently ESA’s INTEGRAL team was confronted with a ruthlessly ticking three hour deadline to save the mission.
European Space Agency INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory is one of many space telescopes currently in orbit. Launched in 2002, it has long surpassed its original designed lifespan of two or three years, but nothing lasts forever. A failed reaction wheel caused the spacecraft to tumble out of control and its automatic emergency recovery procedures didn’t work. Later it was determined those procedures were dependent on the thrusters, which themselves failed in the summer of 2020. (Another mission-saving hack which the team had shared earlier.)
With solar panels no longer pointed at the sun, battery power became the critical constraint. Hampering this time-critical recovery effort was the fact that antenna on a tumbling spacecraft could only make intermittent radio contact. But there was enough control to shut down additional systems for a few more hours on battery, and enough telemetry so the team could understand what had happened. Control was regained using remaining reaction wheels.
INTEGRAL has since returned to work, but this won’t be the last crisis to face an aging space telescope. In the near future, its automatic emergency recovery procedures will be updated to reflect what the team has learned. Long term, ESA did their part to minimize space debris. Before the big heavy telescope lost its thrusters, it had already been guided onto a path which will reenter the atmosphere sometime around 2029. Between now and then, a very capable and fast-reacting operations team will keep INTEGRAL doing science for as long as possible.
One of the most annoying things about bicycles is that they don’t stay up on their own, especially when they’re stationary. That’s why they come with stands, after all. That said, if you had plenty of advanced electronic and mechanical equipment fitted to one, you could do something about that, and that’s just what [稚晖君] did.
The video of the project comes without subtitles or any translation, but the gist of it is this. A reaction wheel is fitted to the seat tube, along with a motor which can turn the handlebars via a linkage attached to the head stem. There’s also a motor to drive the bicycle forward via a friction drive to the rear wheel. Combine these with an inertial measurement unit and suitable control system, and you have a bike that can balance while standing perfectly still.
The performance of the system is impressive, and is even able to hold the bike perfectly upright while balanced on a fence rail. Thanks to an onboard camera and LIDAR system, the bike can also drive itself around with no rider on board, which is quite a spooky image. Find a way to do the same while hiding the extra mechanics and you’d have one hell of a Halloween display.
Similar projects have been attempted in the past; we featured a self-balancing bike built as a university project back in the distant past of 2012. Video after the break.
There’s no shortage of ways a satellite in low Earth orbit can fail during the course of its mission. Even in the best case scenario, the craft needs to survive bombardment by cosmic rays and tremendous temperature variations. To have even a chance of surviving the worst, such as a hardware fault or collision with a rogue piece of space garbage, it needs to be designed with robust redundancies which can keep everything running in the face of systemic damage. Of course, before any of that can even happen it will need to survive the wild ride to space; so add high-G loads and intense vibrations to the list of things which can kill your expensive bird.
After all the meticulous engineering and expense involved in putting a satellite into orbit, you might think it would get a hero’s welcome at the end of its mission. But in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The great irony is that after all the time and effort it takes to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving the rigors of spaceflight, in the end, its operators will more than likely command the craft to destroy itself by dipping its orbit down into the Earth’s atmosphere. The final act of a properly designed satellite will likely be to commit itself to the same fiery fate it had spent years or even decades avoiding.
You might be wondering how engineers design a spacecraft that is simultaneously robust enough to survive years in the space environment while at the same time remaining just fragile enough that it completely burns up during reentry. Up until fairly recently, the simple answer is that it wasn’t really something that was taken into account. But with falling launch prices promising to make space a lot busier in the next few years, the race is on to develop new technologies which will help make sure that a satellite is only intact for as long as it needs to be.
When you think about all the forces that have to be balanced to keep a drone stable, it’s a wonder that the contraptions stay in the air at all. And when the only option for producing those forces is blowing around more or less air it’s natural to start looking for other, perhaps better ways to achieve flight control.
Taking a cue from the spacecraft industry, [Tom Stanton] decided to explore reaction wheels for controlling drones. The idea is simple – put a pair of relatively massive motorized wheels at right angles to each other on a drone, and use the forces they produce when they accelerate to control the drone’s pitch and roll. [Tom]’s video below gives a long and clear explanation of the physics involved before getting to the build, which results in an ungainly craft a little reminiscent of a lunar lander. The drone actually manages a few short, somewhat stable flights, but in general the reaction wheels don’t seem to be up to the task. [Tom] chalks this up to the fact that he’s using the current draw of each reaction wheel motor as a measure of its torque, which is not exactly correct for all situations. He suggests that motors with encoders might do a better job, but by the end of the video the little drone isn’t exactly in shape for continued experimentation.
Over the past few decades, numerous space probes sent to the far-flung reaches of the Solar System have fallen silent. These failures weren’t due to communications problems, probes flying into scientifically implausible anomalies, or little green men snatching up the robotic scouts we’ve sent out into the Solar System. No, these space probes have failed simply because engineers on Earth can’t point them. If you lose attitude control, you lose the ability to point a transmitter at Earth. If you’re managing a space telescope, losing the ability to point a spacecraft turns a valuable piece of scientific equipment into a worthless, spinning pile of junk.
The reasons for these failures is difficult to pin down, but now a few people have an idea. Failures of the Kepler, Dawn, Hayabusa, and FUSE space probes were due to failures of the reaction wheels in the spacecraft. These failures, in turn, were caused by space weather. Specifically, coronal mass ejections from the Sun. How did this research come about, and what does it mean for future missions to deep space?