It is unlikely that as a young lad [Richard Jenkins] would had have visions of sailing into the eye of a Category-4 hurricane. Yet that’s exactly what he’s done with the Explorer 1045, an uncrewed sailing vehicle built by his company, Saildrone. If that weren’t enough, footage from the vessel enduring greater than 120 MPH (almost 200 km/h) winds and 50 foot (15 M) waves was posted online the very next day, and you can see it below the break. We’re going to take a quick look at just two of the technologies that made this possible: Advanced sails and satellite communication. Both are visible on Explorer 1045’s sibling 1048 as seen below:
The most prominent feature of course is the lack of a traditional sail. You see, from 1999-2009, [Richard Jenkins] was focused on setting the land world speed record for a wind powered vehicle. He set that record at 126.1 mph by maturing existing sail wing technology. [Richard] did away with conventional rigging and added a boom with a control surface on it, much like the fuselage and empennage of a sailplane.
Instead of adjusting rigging, the control surface could be utilized to fly the wing into its optimal position while using very little energy. [Richard] has been able to apply this technology at his company, Saildrone. The 23 foot Explorer vessel and its big brothers are the result.
How is it that the world was treated to the view from inside the eye of a hurricane only a day after the video was recorded? If you look at the stern of the vessel, you can see a domed white cylinder. It is a satellite communication base station called the Thales VesseLINK. Thales is one of the partner companies that built the satellites for the Iridium NEXT fleet, which has 66 operational satellites in Low Earth Orbit. The Iridium Certus service uses its L-Band (1.6 GHz) signal to provide up to 352 kbps of upload speed and 704 kbps down. While not blazing fast, the service is available anywhere in the world and is reliable because it is not prone to rain fade and other weather based interference.
With just these two recent innovations, the Explorer 1045 was able to sail to the eye of a hurricane, record footage and gather data, and then ship it home just hours later. And we’re hardly exploring the tip of the iceberg. More than just sailboat based cameras, these scientific instruments are designed to survive some of the harshest environments on the planet for over a year at a time. They are a marvel of applied engineering, and we’re positive that there are some brilliant hacks hiding under that bright orange exterior.
Well, at least in this case. The data [Dmitrii] is after happens to be broadcast from a relatively old fleet of satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These birds (NOAA-15, NOAA-18 and NOAA-19) are somewhat unique in that they fly fairly low and utilize a simple analog signal transmitted at 137 MHz. This makes them especially good targets for hobbyists who are just dipping their toes into the world of satellite reception.
SpaceX just concluded 2017 by launching 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. A footnote on the launch was the “hosted payload” on board each of the satellites: a small box of equipment from Aireon. They will track every aircraft around the world in real-time, something that has been technically possible but nobody claimed they could do it economically until now.
Challenge one: avoid adding cost to aircraft. Instead of using expensive satcom or adding dedicated gear, Aireon listen to ADS-B equipment already installed as part of international air traffic control modernization. But since ADS-B was designed for aircraft-to-aircraft and aircraft-to-ground, Aireon had some challenges to overcome. Like the fact ADS-B antenna is commonly mounted on the belly of an aircraft blocking direct path to satellite.
Challenge two: hear ADS-B everywhere and do it for less. Today we can track aircraft when they are flying over land, but out in the middle of the ocean, there are no receivers in range except possibly other aircraft. Aireon needed a lot of low-orbit satellites to ensure you are in range no matter where you are. Piggybacking on Iridium gives them coverage at a fraction of the cost of building their own satellites.
We live in a connected world, but that world ends not far beyond the outermost cell phone tower. [John Grant] wants to be connected everywhere, even in regions where no mobile network is available, so he is building a solar powered, handheld satellite messenger: The MyComm – his entry for the Hackaday Prize.
The MyComm is a handheld touch-screen device, much like a smartphone, that connects to the Iridium satellite network to send and receive text messages. At the heart of his build, [John] uses a RockBLOCK Mk2 Iridium SatComm Module hooked up to a Teensy 3.1. The firmware is built upon a FreeRTOS port for proper task management. Project contributor [Jack] crafted an intuitive GUI that includes an on-screen keyboard to write, send and receive messages. A micro SD card stores all messages and contact list entries. Eventually, the system will be equipped with a solar cell, charging regulator and LiPo battery for worldwide, unconditional connectivity.
2016 will be an interesting year for the Iridium network since the first satellites for the improved (and backward-compatible) “Iridium NEXT” network are expected to launch soon. At times the 66 Iridium satellites currently covering the entire globe were considered a $5B heap of space junk due to deficiencies in reliability and security. Yet, it’s still there, with maker-friendly modems being available at $250 and pay-per-use rates of about 7 ct/kB (free downstream for SDR-Hackers). Enjoy the video of [Jack] explaining the MyComm user interface:
Students of the Samara State Aerospace University are having trouble getting a signal from their satellite, SamSat-218D. They are now reaching out to the radio amateur community, inviting everybody with sufficiently sensitive UHF VHF band (144 MHz) equipment to help by listening to SamSat-218D. The satellite was entirely built by students and went into space on board of a Soyuz-2 rocket on April 26, 2016. This is their call (translated by Google):
Several of the authors you read on Hackaday are ham radio operators and we’ve often kicked around having a Hacker Chat about “Why be a ham today?” After all, you can talk to anyone in the world over the Internet or via phone, right? What’s the draw?
The Radio Society of Great Britain had the same thought, apparently, and produced a great video to answer the question. They mention the usual things: learning about technology, learning about people in other parts of the world, disaster communications, and radiosport (which seems to be more popular outside the United States; people compete to find hidden transmitters).
In addition, they talked a lot about how hams get involved with space communications, ranging from talking via satellites, to talking to people on the space station, to actually building small satellites. As the narrator says, there are “hundreds of ways to have techie fun” with ham radio.
One thing we noticed they showed but didn’t say a lot about, though, is the educational opportunities. You can learn a lot, and working with kids to help them learn is often very rewarding (and you usually learn something, too). Just to forestall the comments that this post isn’t hack related, we’ll note two things: there is a Raspberry Pi shown and just past the two-minute mark, there is a very clever hacked together Morse code key.
We talk a lot about ham radio, ranging from Arduino-based digital modes to putting together portable stations (you can see a similar one in the video, too). One other thing we noticed they don’t mention: it is generally much easier to get a license today than ever before. Most countries (including the United States) have abolished the Morse code requirements, so while some hams still enjoy CW (hamspeak for operating Morse code), it isn’t a requirement.
Ham radio put another satellite in orbit, the FOX-1A. Not many groups have the long-term hacking credentials of hams. Their tradition extends back to the first days of radio communications, which puts the group well over a century old. This newest satellite launched in the early hours of October 8th and, after deployment, was heard later the same day. Anyone with the ability to listen on the 2m band can hear FOX-1A. Those licensed as hams will be able to communicate using a 70cm transmitter while listening on 2m.
This satellite is using the cube-sat format and ‘ride sharing’ through a program offered by NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Twelve other nano-satellites rode along with the FOX-1A. These 10 cm cubes are used for commercial, educational, and non-profit projects. The purpose of today’s satellites covered not only ham radio but educating students in satellite construction, land management by American Indian tribes, and space to ground laser communication. Yeah, what’s cooler than space lasers? Video about the FOX-1A after the break.