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Hackaday Links: November 20, 2022

Lots of space news this week, with the big story being that Artemis I finally blasted off for its trip to the Moon. It was a spectacular night launch, with the SLS sending the crew-rated but vacant — well, mostly vacant — Orion spacecraft on a week-ish long trip to the Moon, before spending a couple of weeks testing out a distant retrograde orbit. The mission is already returning some stunning images, and the main mission goal is to check out the Orion spacecraft and everything needed for a crewed Artemis II lunar flyby sometime in 2024. If that goes well, Artemis III will head up in 2025 with a crew of four to put the first bootprints on the Moon in over 50 years.

Of course, like the Apollo missions before it, a big part of the crewed landings of the Artemis program will likely be the collection and return of more lunar rock and soil samples. But NASA likes to hedge its bets, which is perhaps why they’ve announced an agreement to purchase lunar regolith samples from the first private company to send a lander to the Moon. The Japanese start-up behind this effort is called ispace, and they’ve been issued a license by the Japanese government to transfer samples collected by its HAKUTO-R lander to NASA. Or rather, samples collected on the lander — the contract is for NASA to take possession of whatever regolith accumulates on the HAKUTO-R’s landing pads. And it’s not like ispace is going to return the samples — the lander isn’t designed to ever leave the lunar surface. The whole thing is symbolic of the future of space commerce, which is probably why NASA is only paying $5,000 for the dirt.

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Hackaday Links: August 28, 2022

The countdown for the first step on humanity’s return to the Moon has begun. The countdown for Artemis 1 started on Saturday morning, and if all goes well, the un-crewed Orion spacecraft atop the giant Space Launch Systems (SLS) booster will liftoff from the storied Pad 39B at Cape Canaveral on Monday, August 29, at 8:33 AM EDT (1233 GMT). The mission is slated to last for about 42 days, which seems longish considering the longest manned Apollo missions only lasted around 12 days. But, without the constraint of storing enough consumables for a crew, Artemis is free to take the scenic route to the Moon, as it were. No matter what your position is on manned space exploration, it’s hard to deny that launching a rocket as big as the SLS is something to get excited about. After all, it’s been 50 years since anything remotely as powerful as the SLS has headed to space, and it’s an event that’s expected to draw 100,000 people to watch it in person. We’ll have to stick to the NASA live stream ourselves; having seen a Space Shuttle launch in person in 1990, we can’t express how much we envy anyone who gets to experience this launch up close.
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Unpacking The Stowaway Science Aboard Artemis I

NASA’s upcoming Artemis I mission represents a critical milestone on the space agency’s path towards establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon. It will mark not only the first flight of the massive Space Launch System (SLS) and its Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), but will also test the ability of the 25 ton Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to operate in lunar orbit. While there won’t be any crew aboard this flight, it will serve as a dress rehearsal for the Artemis II mission — which will see humans travel beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo program ended in 1972.

As the SLS was designed to lift a fully loaded and crewed Orion capsule, the towering rocket and the ISPS are being considerably underutilized for this test flight. With so much excess payload capacity available, Artemis I is in the unique position of being able to carry a number of secondary payloads into cislunar space without making any changes to the overall mission or flight trajectory.

NASA has selected ten CubeSats┬áto hitch a ride into space aboard Artemis I, which will test out new technologies and conduct deep space research. These secondary payloads are officially deemed “High Risk, High Reward”, with their success far from guaranteed. But should they complete their individual missions, they may well help shape the future of lunar exploration.

With Artemis I potentially just days away from liftoff, let’s take a look at a few of these secondary payloads and how they’ll be deployed without endangering the primary mission of getting Orion to the Moon.

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Put 3D Metal Printing Services To The Test, By Making A Watch

Have you ever been tempted by those metal 3D printing services? [Carter Hurd] has, and puts them to the test with a wristwatch. (Video, embedded below.)

It’s fair to say that among Hackaday readers you will find a very high percentage of 3D printer ownership compared to the general population, but for most of us that means an FDM or perhaps even an SLA printer. These two technologies have both effectively delivered polymer printing at the affordable end of the market, but as readers will also be aware they are only the tip of the 3D printing iceberg. We know the awesomeness of your industrial 3D printer is defined by the size of your wallet, and while our wallets are small, we are offered a chance at the big time through the services of rapid prototyping companies that will print our models on these high-end machines. Thus [Carter]’s project video is as much about using these services as it is about making a wristwatch.

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3D Print Glass With A Laser Cutter

We’re all familiar with FDM 3D printing, and some of the more well-heeled or adventurous among us may even have taken a faltering step into the world of SLA printers. But for most of us there’s a step further in 3D printing that remains beyond our reach. SLS, or Selective Laser Sintering, creates prints from powder by melting it layer by layer using a laser, and has the advantage of opening up more useful materials than the polymer stock of the other methods. It’s not entirely unreachable though, as [Kenneth Hawthorn] shows us by using a laser cutter to produce SLS prints from powdered glass.

He evolved the technique of repeated fast passes with the laser to gradually melt more glass together as opposed to slower passes. He achieved a resolution as low as 0.1 mm, though he found a better glass color when the laser was less tightly focused. It raises the concern that glass powder is abrasive and thus a threat to any mechanism, thus he’s being extremely careful with the fan settings.

This may not be quite in the league of an SLS printer costing thousands of dollars, but it’s a technique that bears more investigation and could no doubt be refined for more custom fused glass creations. He tells us he was inspired by a previous Hackaday post about sintering sand, and of course we’d like to remind readers of a 3D printer that did the same job with the power of the sun.

NASA’s Giant SLS Rocket Rolled Back For Repairs

There’s little debate that the most exciting move in a rocket’s repertoire is when it launches itself skywards on a column of flame. But failing that, it’s still pretty interesting to see how these massive vehicles get juggled around down here on terra firma before getting fired off into the black. Which is great for anyone interested in NASA’s towering Space Launch System (SLS), as it’s been doing an awful lot of milling about on the ground for a vehicle designed to return humanity to the Moon.

Most recently, the SLS completed a trek from the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to launch pad 39B and back again aboard the same “crawler” that moved the Space Shuttle and Saturn V before it. While the nearly 60-year-old tracked vehicle has received some updates to carry the 98 meter (322 ft) tall booster, clearly the space agency subscribes to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought.

The ICPS being loaded onto the SLS

The SLS itself however is definitely in need of some work. The rocket was brought out to the pad for the first time on March 18th, where it was to conduct what’s known as a “wet dress rehearsal” — a test of the pre-flight operations, propellant loading, and countdown that includes everything except engine ignition. Unfortunately, the test was plagued with technical issues, and after three attempts, it was decided to bring the rocket back into the VAB to make the necessary repairs to both it and the ground support equipment.

One issue involves a valve in the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), a propulsion module that’s being used on the early SLS flights to provide the trans-lunar injection (TLI) burn that will send the Orion spacecraft on a course towards the Moon. As the name implies, the ICPS is destined to be replaced with the larger Exploration Upper Stage on later missions. There’s also a leak on the launch tower itself that will need to be addressed. After the identified problems are repaired and some adjustments are made, the SLS will once again be rolled out to the pad to reattempt the launch rehearsal.

Now in development for over a decade, the Space Launch System has been plagued with technical issues and delays. At the same time, commercial launch providers like SpaceX have moved the state of the art forward considerably, leading many to wonder if the mind-bogglingly expensive rocket will be able to compete with in-development vehicles such as Starship and New Glenn. The fact that missions which were previously assigned to the SLS have started to get shifted over to commercial rockets would seem to indicate that even NASA is losing confidence in their flagship program.

DIY SLS 3D Printer Getting Ready To Print

Ten years ago the concept of having on our desks an affordable 3D printer knocking out high quality reproducible prints, with sub-mm accuracy, in a wide range of colours and material properties would be the would be just a dream. But now, it is reality. The machines that are now so ubiquitous for us hackers, are largely operating with the FDM principle of shooting molten plastic out of a moving nozzle, but they’re not the only game in town. A technique that has also being around for donkeys’ years is SLS or Selective Laser Sintering, but machines of this type are big, heavy and expensive. However, getting one of those in your own ‘shop now is looking a little less like a dream and more of a reality, with the SLS4All project by [Tomas Starek] over on hackaday.io.

[Tomas] has been busy over the past year, working on the design of his machine and is now almost done with the building and testing of the hardware side. SLS printing works by using a roller to transfer a layer of powdered material over the print surface, and then steering a medium-power laser beam over the surface in order to heat and bond the powder grains into a solid mass. Then, the bed is lowered a little, and the process repeats. Heating of the bed, powder and surrounding air is critical, as is moisture control, plus keeping that laser beam shape consistent over the full bed area is a bit tricky as well. These are all hurdles [Tomas] has to overcome, but the test machine is completed and is in a good place to start this process control optimisation fun. Continue reading “DIY SLS 3D Printer Getting Ready To Print”