Animatronic Saturn V Launch Tower Sends Lego Model To The Moon

When it comes to their more adult-oriented models, Lego really knocked it out of the park with their Saturn V rocket model. Within the constraints of the universe of Lego parts, the one-meter-tall model is incredibly detailed, and thousands of space fans eagerly snapped up the kit when it came out.

But a rocket without a launchpad is just a little sad, which is why [Mark Howe] came up with this animatronic Saturn V launch pad and gantry for his rocket model. The level of detail in the launchpad complements the features of the Saturn V model perfectly, and highlights just what it took to service the crew and the rocket once it was rolled out to the pad. As you can imagine, extensive use of 3D-printed parts was the key to getting the look just right, and to making parts that actually move.

When it’s time for a launch, the sway control arm and hammerhead crane swing out of the way under servo control as the Arduino embedded in the base plays authentic countdown audio. The crew catwalk swings away, the engines light, and the service arms swing back. Then for the pièce de résistance, the Saturn V begins rising slowly from the pad on five columns of flame. [Mark] uses a trio of steppers driving linear actuators to lift the model; the flame effect is cleverly provided by strings of WS2812s inside five clear plastic tubes. We have to say it took some guts to put the precious 1,969-piece model on a lift like that, but the effect was well worth the risk.

This project has a great look and is obviously a labor of love, and a great homage to the Apollo program’s many successes. We’ve got a ton of other Apollo-era hacks on our pages, including a replica DSKY, a rejuvenated AGC, and a look behind the big boards of mission control.

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Russian Rocket Tech Comes In From The Cold

Decades after the end of the space race, an American rocket took off from Cape Canaveral. This was a routine launch to send a communications satellite into orbit, but the situation was an historic first. The rocket in question was driven by a powerful Russian engine unlike any ever built in the States. Although this particular engine was new, the design dated back to the space age.

By the early 1960s, the Russians were leaps and bounds ahead of the United States in terms of space exploration. They had already launched Sputnik and sent Yuri Gagarin to orbit the Earth. All in all, the Russians seemed poised to send a man to the moon. Russian technology had the Americans worried enough to spy on them with satellites, and the images that came back revealed something spectacular. Out in the Kazakh desert, the Russians were building an enormous causeway and two launch pads. As it turns out, the US had every reason to be worried.

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Further Teardown Of The Saturn V Flight Computer

[Fran] has been working on tearing down and reverse engineering the Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer (LVDC). In her finale, she’s succeeded in depotting the legacy components while keeping them intact.

She accomplished this by carefully removing the silicone compound using a gum brush. This was a laborious process, but it allowed her to see the device’s innards. With this knowledge, she could recreate the logic modules on a breadboard.

[Fran]’s work on the LVDC has been very interesting. It began with a look at the PCB, followed by an x-ray analysis. Next up was a three part series of the teardown. With each part is a detailed video on the progress.

While this is the end of [Fran]’s work on the project, she will be handing off the LVDC hardware to another engineer to continue the analysis. We’re looking forward to seeing what comes out of this continued research.

Deconstructing Apollo Flight Hardware

[Fran] has been researching the Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer – the computer that flew all the Apollo flights into orbit and onwards towards the moon – for a while now. Even though she’s prodded parts of the LVDC with x-rays and multimeters, this is the first time she’s committed to a little destructive testing.

After [Fran] took a flight-ready LVDC spare to the dentist’s office for x-raying and did an amazing amount of research on this artifact from the digital past, there was only so much she could learn without prying apart a few of these small, strange chip packages. Not wanting to destroy her vintage LVDC board, she somehow found another LVDC board for destructive reverse engineering.

This new circuit board was a bit different from the piece in her collection. Instead of the chip leads being soldered, these were welded on, much to the chagrin of [Fran] and her desoldering attempts. After removing one of these chips from the board, she discovered they were potted making any visual inspection a little difficult.

While [Fran]’s attempts at reverse engineering the computer for a Saturn V were a bit unsuccessful, we’ve got to hand it to her for getting this far; it’s very, very likely the tech behind the LVDC was descended from ICBMs and would thus be classified. Documenting the other computer used in every Apollo launch is an impressive feat on its own, and reverse engineering it from actual hardware, well, we can’t think of anything cooler.

Digging Deeper Into The Apollo Saturn V LVDC

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[Fran] went all-out with her reverse engineering of the Apollo Saturn V LVDC board. Regular readers will remember that she was showing of the relic early this year when she took the board to her Dentist’s office to X-ray the circuit design. Since then she’s been hard at work trying to figure out how the thing functions using that look inside the board and components. When we say ‘hard at work’ we really mean it. Not only did she explore many different theories that resulted in dead ends, she also built her own version of the circuits to make sure they performed as she theorized. Above you can see her version of the NAND/AND gates used on the hardware.

We find her explanation of how the logic devices were originally fabricated to be very interesting. They started with a ceramic substrate and used additive processes to form the traces and add the gates. We’ve embedded her video explanation after the jump.

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In-depth Look At An LVCD Board From A Saturn V Rocket

saturn-v-lvdc-board

Join [Fran] as she dons the hat of an electronics archaeologist when looking at this vintage circuit board from the space race. As part of her personal collection she somehow acquired a Launch Vehicle Digital Computer board for a Saturn V rocket. This particular unit was never used. But it would have been had the Apollo program continued.

[Fran] is enamored with this particular board because she believes it is the forerunner of modern digital circuit design and layout. Since routing circuit boards is part of what she does for a living you can see why this is important to her. Also, who isn’t excited by actual hardware from the space program? We’ve embedded two of her videos after the break. In the first she shows off the component to the camera and speaks briefly about it. But the second video has her heading to the dentist’s office for X-rays. The image above is a rotating X-ray machine, but it looks like the best imagery comes when a handheld gun is used. They get some great images of the traces, as well as the TTL components on the board itself.

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