Engineering for the Long Haul, the NASA Way

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.

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Hydrogen Desk Cannon Is Fun With Electricity and Water

Water is a stable chemical, but with the addition of a little electricity, it can be split into its component parts. The result is just the right mix of H2 and O2 to convert back into water with a bang. [Peter Sripol] has built a charming desktop cannon in just such a way.

The build consists of a contact lens canister filled with a solution of water and potassium hydroxide. By running a DC current through this solution, oxyhydrogen is produced, which then passes through a flash arrestor and into a combustion chamber. Upon the chamber is affixed a rocket, which is propelled when the charge is lit by a piezoelectric ignitor.

The chemical side of the build was easy, but it took significant experimentation to get the rocket side of things working well. Eventually success was found by creating a blast cap out of paper and hot glue which allowed the energy of the blast to be more effectively transferred to the rocket body. With this in place, the cannon is capable of firing small paper rockets in excess of 20 feet.

With the brass and copper components mounted upon stained wood, this contraption would look beautiful on any desk and would be great for assailing one’s fellow coworkers. If your office doesn’t have an explosives policy yet, once you bring this in to work, it will soon. [Peter] uses similar technology in his Nerf blasters, too. Video after the break.

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Brushless R/C Rocket Tests Different Flight Regimes

Quadcopters are familiar, and remote control planes are old hat at this point. However, compact lightweight power systems and electronic flight controllers continue to make new flying vehicles possible. In that vein, [rctestflight] has been experimenting with a brushless electric rocket craft, with interesting results. (Youtube, embedded below.)

The build uses a single large brushless motor in the tail for primary thrust. Four movable vanes provide thrust vectoring capability. To supplement this control a quadcopter was gutted, and its motors rearranged in the nose of the craft to create a secondary set of thrusters which aid stabilization and maneuverability.

The aim is to experiment with a flight regime consisting of vertical takeoff followed by coasting horizontally before returning to a vertical orientation for landing. Preliminary results have been positive, though it was noted that the body of the aircraft is significantly reducing the available thrust from the motors.

It’s a creative design which recalls the SpaceX vertical landing rockets of recent times. We’re excited to see where this project leads, and as we’ve seen before – brushless power can make just about anything fly. Even chocolate. Video after the break.

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Cortex 2 is One Serious 3D Printed Experimental Rocket

Rocketry is wild, and [Foaly] is sharing build and design details of the Cortex 2 mini rocket which is entirely 3D printed. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it is in any way a gimmick; the Cortex 2 is a serious piece of engineering with some fascinating development.

Cortex 1 was launched as part of C’Space, an event allowing students to launch experimental rockets. Stuffed with sensors and entirely 3D printed, Cortex 1 flew well, but the parachute failed to deploy mainly due to an imperfectly bonded assembly. The hatch was recovered, but the rocket was lost. Lessons were learned, and Cortex 2 was drafted up before the end of the event.

Some of the changes included tweaking the shape and reducing weight, and the refinements also led to reducing the number of fins from four to three. The fins for Cortex 2 are also reinforced with carbon fiber inserts and are bolted on to the main body.

Here’s an interesting details: apparently keeping the original fins would result in a rocket that was “overstable”. We didn’t really realize that was a thing. The results of overstabilizing are similar to a PID loop where gain is too high, and overcorrection results in oscillations instead of a nice stable trajectory.

Cortex 2 uses a different rocket motor from its predecessor, which led to another interesting design issue. The new motor is similar to hobby solid rocket motors where a small explosive charge at the top of the motor blows some time after the fuel is gone. This charge is meant to eject a parachute, but the Cortex 2 is not designed to use this method, and so the gasses must be vented. [Foaly] was understandably not enthusiastic about venting hot gasses through the mostly-PLA rocket body. Instead, a cylindrical cartridge was designed that both encases the motor and redirects any gasses from the explosive charge out the rear of the rocket. That cartridge was SLA printed out of what looks to us like Formlabs’ High Tempurature Resin.

Finally, to address the reasons Cortex 1 crashed, the hatch and parachute were redesigned for better reliability. A servo takes care of activating the system, and a couple of reverse-polarity magnets assist in ensuring the hatch blows clear. There’s even a small servo that takes care of retracting the launch guide.

The rocket is only half built so far, but looks absolutely fantastic and we can’t wait to see more. It’s clear [Foaly] has a lot of experience and knowledge. After all, [Foaly] did convert a Makerbot printer into a CNC circuitboard engraver.

An Englishman’s Home Is His (Drone-Defended) Castle

Retiring to the garden for a few reflective puffs on the meerschaum and a quick shufti through the Racing Post, and the peace of the afternoon is shattered by the buzz of a drone in the old airspace,what! What’s a chap to do, let loose with both barrels of the finest birdshot from the trusty twelve-bore? Or build a missile battery cunningly concealed in a dovecote? The latter is what [secretbatcave] did to protect his little slice of England, and while we’re not sure of its efficacy we’re still pretty taken with it. After all, who wouldn’t want a useless garden accoutrement that conceals a fearsome 21st century defence system?

The basic shell of the dovecote is made from laser cut ply, in the shape of an innocuous miniature house. The roof is in two sliding sections which glide apart upon servo-controlled drawer runners, and concealed within is the rocket launcher itself on a counterweighted arm to lift it through the opening. The (toy) rocket itelf is aimed with a camera pan/tilt mechanism,and the whole is under the control of a Raspberry Pi

It’s understood that this is a rather tongue-in-cheek project, and the chances of any multirotors falling out of the sky are somewhat remote. But it does serve also to bring a bit of light back onto a theme Hackaday have touched upon in previous years, that of the sometimes uneasy relationship between drone and public.

Travel to Mercury on Ion Power

Star Trek — as much as we love it — was guilty sometimes of a bit of hyperbole and more than its share of inconsistency. In some episodes, ion drives were advanced technology and in others they were obsolete. Make up your mind!

The ESA-JAXA BepiColombo probe is on its way to Mercury riding on four ion thrusters developed by a company called QinetiQ. But unlike the ion drive featured in the infamous “Spock’s Brain” episode, BepiColombo will take over seven years to get to Mercury. That’s because these ion drives are real.

The craft is actually two spacecraft in one with two different Mercury missions. The Mercury planetary orbiter will study the surface while the magnetosphere orbiter will study the little planet’s magnetic field. Check out a video about the mission, below. The second video shows [Neil Wallace] talking about how the ion propulsion — also known as solar electric engines — differ from traditional chemical thrusters.

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Rocket Science With The Other SpaceX

When you say that something’s not rocket science you mean that it’s not as hard to understand or do as it may seem. The implication is that rocket science is something which is hard and best left to the likes of SpaceX or NASA. But that’s not the hacker spirit.

Rocket science with BPS.Space[Joe Barnard] recently had an unsuccessful flight of his Falcon Heavy’s second stage and gives a very clear explanation of what went wrong using those two simple concepts along with the thrust, which in this case is just the force applied to the moment arm.

And no, you didn’t miss a big happening with SpaceX. His Falcon Heavy is a homebrew one using model rocket solid boosters. Mind you, it is a little more advanced than that as he’s implemented thrust vectoring by controlling the engine’s direction using servo motors.

And therein lies the problem. The second stage’s inertia is so small and the moment arm so short that even a small misalignment in the thrust vectoring results in a big effect on the moment arm causing the vehicle to deviate from the desired path. You can see this in the first video below. Another issue he discusses is the high drag, but we’ll leave that to the second video below which contains his explanation and some chart analysis.

So yeah, maybe rocket science is rocket science. But there’s no better way to get your feet wet then to get out there and get building.

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