Space Shuttle Atlantis connected to Russia's Mir Space Station as photographed by the Mir-19 crew on July 4, 1995. (Credit: NASA)

The Soviet Space Station Program: From Military Satellites To The ISS

When the Space Race kicked off in earnest in the 1950s, in some ways it was hard to pin down where sci-fi began and reality ended. As the first artificial satellites began zipping around the Earth, this was soon followed by manned spaceflight, first in low Earth orbit, then to the Moon with manned spaceflights to Mars and Venus already in the planning. The first space stations were being launched following or alongside Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and countless other books and movies during the 1960s and 1970s such as Moonraker which portrayed people living (and fighting) out in space.

Perhaps ironically, considering the portrayal of space stations in Western media, virtually all of the space stations launched during the 20th century were Soviet, leaving Skylab as the sole US space station to this day. The Soviet Union established a near-permanent presence of cosmonauts in Earth orbit since the 1970s as part of the Salyut program. These Salyut space stations also served as cover for the military Almaz space stations that were intended to be used for reconnaissance as well as weapon platforms.

Although the US unquestionably won out on racing the USSR to the Moon, the latter nation’s achievements granted us invaluable knowledge on how to make space stations work, which benefits us all to this very day.

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Inside Globus, A Soviet-Era Analog Space Computer

Whenever [Ken Shirriff] posts something, it ends up being a fascinating read. Usually it’s a piece of computer history, decapped and laid bare under his microscope where it undergoes reverse engineering and analysis to a degree that should be hard to follow, but he still somehow manages to make it understandable. And the same goes for this incredible Soviet analog flight computer, even though there’s barely any silicon inside.

The artifact in question was officially designated the “Индикатор Навигационный Космический,” which roughly translates to “space navigation indicator.” It mercifully earned the nickname “Globus” at some point, understandable given the prominent mechanized globe the device features. Globus wasn’t actually linked to any kind of inertial navigation inputs, but rather was intended to provide cosmonauts with a visual indication of where their spacecraft was relative to the surface of the Earth. As such it depended on inputs from the cosmonauts, like an initial position and orbital altitude. From there, a complicated and absolutely gorgeous gear train featuring multiple differential gears advanced the globe, showing where the spacecraft currently was.

Those of you hoping for a complete teardown will be disappointed; the device, which bears evidence of coming from the time of the Apollo-Soyuz collaboration in 1975, is far too precious to be taken to bits, and certainly looks like it would put up a fight trying to get it back together. But [Ken] still manages to go into great depth, and reveals many of its secrets. Cool features include the geopolitically fixed orbital inclination; the ability to predict a landing point from a deorbit burn, also tinged with Cold War considerations; and the instrument’s limitations, like only supporting circular orbits, which prompted cosmonauts to call for its removal. But versions of Globus nonetheless appeared in pretty much everything the Soviets flew from 1961 to 2002. Talk about staying power!

Sure, the “glass cockpit” of modern space vehicles is more serviceable, but just for aesthetics alone, we think every crewed spacecraft should sport something like Globus. [Ken] did a great job reverse-engineering this, and we really appreciate the tour. And from the sound of it, [Curious Marc] had a hand in the effort, so maybe we’ll get a video too. Fingers crossed.

Thanks to [saintaardvark] for the tip.

Damaged Soyuz May Leave Crew Without A Ride Home

Though oddly beautiful in its own way, it’s a sight no astronaut wants to see: their spacecraft, the only way they have to return to Earth, ejecting countless iridescent droplets of something into space.

When the crew of Apollo 13 saw their craft literally bleeding out on their trip to the Moon it was clear the mission, and ultimately their lives, were in real jeopardy. Luckily the current situation is not nearly as dire, as the leaking Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked to the International Space Station doesn’t pose any immediate danger to those aboard the orbiting laboratory. But it’s still an unprecedented situation, and getting its crew home will require engineers on the ground to make some very difficult decisions.

This situation is still developing, and neither NASA nor their Russian counterpart Roscosmos have released much in the way of specifics. But we can make some educated guesses from the video and images we’ve seen of the stricken Soyuz capsule, and from what’s been shown to the public so far, things aren’t looking good.

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South Korean Mapping Satellite Reaches Orbit

South Korea’s space program achieved another milestone yesterday with the launch of the first Compact Advanced Satellite 500 (CAS500) in a planned series of five vehicles. A second-generation Russian Soyuz 2.1a lifted the Korean-made CAS500-1 from historic Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan and successfully placed it into a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit, inclined by 97.7 degrees or 15 orbits/day. Living up to its reputation as a workhorse, the Soyuz then proceeded to deposit multiple other satellites into 600 km and 550 km orbits. The satellite is pretty substantial, being 2.9 m tall and 1.9 m diameter and topping the scales at 500 kg. (Don’t be confused, like we were, by this Wikipedia article that says it is a 1.3 kg CubeSat.)

South Korea already has over a dozen satellites in orbit, and the CAS500 adds a modular space platform to the mix. It was designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to provide a core backbone which can be easily adapted to other missions, not unlike a car manufacturer that sells several different models all based on the same underlying chassis. Another down-to-earth goal of the CAS500 program was to foster the transfer of core technologies from state-owned KARI to private industry. We wonder how such figures are calculated, but reportedly 91.3% of CAS500-1 was made in Korea. Subsequent flights will further involve local services and industry.

The purpose of the first two satellites is to provide images to the private sector, for example, online mapping and navigation platforms. How popular this will be is yet to be determined — as one local newspaper notes, the 2 meter image resolution (50 cm in monochrome) pales in comparison to Google’s advertised 15 cm resolution. The next three satellites will focus on space science imagery.

The Soyuz launch is shown below, and this short video clip from KARI shows a nice animation of the satellite. Try not to cringe at the simulated whooshing sound as two satellites pass each other in the vacuum of space — turn down the volume if you need to.

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A Soyuz Space Clock Replica

If you like the retro look of old Soviet space hardware, then this replica of the model 774H Soyuz digital clock by [David Whitty] might be the perfect accessory for your desk. Forgoing the original stack of ten jam-packed circuit boards, [David] used an Arduino, a GPS receiver, and a handful of other common parts to create a convincing reproduction.

Out with the old, in with the new

He also made some functional changes to make it better suited as an ordinary clock for us earthbound folk. If you want to take on this project yourself, be prepared for some real metalwork. No 3D printing filament was harmed in building this project. It’s based on a pair of heavily modified Hammond cast aluminum enclosures, with over 1 kg of lead ballast added to give it the appropriate heft of the original. The GPS patch antenna is cleverly hidden on the rear interface connector, but a discrete hole for a USB connector gives away the secret that this isn’t an original. The software (free for non-commercial use) and build notes are available on his GitHub repository.

We covered [Ken Shirriff]’s fascinating dive into the guts of a real Soyuz digital clock back in January. If old space hardware is your thing, you should definitely check out this teardown by [CuriousMarc] of the 653B, the 1960s-era electro-mechanical predecessor to the 774H. Thanks to [CuriousMarc] for bringing this project to our attention.

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The Day The Russians And Americans Met 135 Miles Up

If you watched the original Star Trek series, you’d assume there was no way the Federation would ever work with the Klingons. But eventually the two became great allies despite their cultural differences. There was a time when it seemed like the United States and Russia would never be friends — as much as nations can be friends. Yet today, the two powers cooperate on a number of fronts.

One notable area of cooperation is in spaceflight, and that also was one of the first areas where the two were able to get together in a cooperative fashion, meeting for the first time in orbit, 135 miles up.  The mission also marks the ultimate voyage of the Apollo spacecraft, a return to space for the USSR’s luckiest astronauts, and the maiden flight of NASA’s oldest astronaut. The ability to link US and Soviet capsules in space would pave the way for the International Space Station.  The Apollo-Soyuz mission was nothing if not historic, but also more relevant than ever as more nations become spacefaring. Continue reading “The Day The Russians And Americans Met 135 Miles Up”

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Hackaday Links: April 19, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic at least seems to be on a downward track, the dystopian aspects of the response to the disease appear to be on the rise. As if there weren’t enough busybodies and bluenoses shaming their neighbors for real or imagined quarantine violations on social media, now we have the rise of social-distancing enforcement drones. These have been in use in hot zones around the world, of course, but have only recently arrived in the US. From New Jersey to Florida, drones are buzzing about in search of people not cowering in fear in their homes and blaring messages about how they face fines and arrest for seeking a little fresh air and sunshine. We’re all in favor of minimizing contact with potentially infected people, but it seems like these methods might be taking things a bit too far.

If you somehow find yourself with some spare time and want to increase your knowledge, or at least expand your virtual library, Springer Publishing has some exciting news for you. The journal and textbook publisher has made over 400 ebook titles available for free download. We had a quick scan over the list, and while the books run the gamut from social sciences to astrophysics, there are plenty of titles that are right in the wheelhouse of most Hackaday readers. There are books on power electronics, semiconductor physics, and artificial intelligence, as well as tons more. They all seem to be recent titles, so the information isn’t likely to be too dated. Give the list a once-over and happy downloading.

Out of all the people on this planet, the three with the least chance of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 blasted off from Kazakhstan this week on Soyuz MS-16 to meet up with the ISS. The long-quarantined crew of Anatoly Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner, and Chris Cassidy swapped places with the Expedition 62 crew, who returned to Earth safely in the Soyuz MS-15 vehicle. It’s a strange new world they return to, and we wish them and their ISS colleagues all the best. What struck us most about this mission, though, was some apparently surreptitiously obtained footage of the launch from a remarkably dangerous position. We saw some analysis of the footage, and based on the sound delay the camera was perhaps as close as 150 meters to the launchpad. It’s hard to say if the astronauts or the camera operator was braver.

And finally, because neatness counts, we got this great tip on making your breadboard jumpers perfectly straight. There’s something satisfying about breadboard circuits where the jumpers are straight and exactly the length the need to be, and John Martin’s method is so simple you can’t help but use it. He just rolls the stripped jumpers between his bench and something flat; he uses a Post-it note pad but just about anything will do. The result is satisfyingly straight jumpers, ready to be bent and inserted. We bet this method could be modified to work with the stiffer wire normally used in circuit sculptures like those of Mohit Bhoite; he went into some depth about his methods during his Supercon talk last year, and it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.