The Russians And The Americans Only Want The Moon

For the generations who lived through the decades of the Space Race, the skies above were an exciting place. Every month it seemed there was a new announcement of a new mission, a Lunar landing, new pictures from a planetary probe, or fresh feats of derring-do from astronauts or cosmonauts. Space was inspiring!

As we moved through the Shuttle, Mir, and ISS eras, the fascinating work didn’t stop. The Mars rovers, the Cassini probe, the Chang-e Lunar mission, or the Hubble telescope, to name just a very few. But somehow along the way, space lost the shine for the general public, it became routine, mundane, even. Shuttle missions and Soyuz craft carrying ISS astronauts became just another feature on the news, eventually consigned only to the technology section of the broadcaster’s website. The TV comedy Big Bang Theory derived humor from this, when a character becomes an ISS astronaut, yet is still a nobody on his return to Earth.

If you yearn for a bit of that excitement from the Space Race days you may just find it in another story tucked away in the tech sections, though it comes from a collaboration rather than a competition. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have announced a partnership to take what will be the next step towards a future of deep space exploration, to place a manned space station in a Lunar orbit. The idea is that it would serve first as a valuable research platform for missions in deeper space than the current relatively low orbit of the ISS, and then as a launch base for both lunar missions and those further afield in the Solar System.

Of course, there is no lunar-orbiting station, yet. There is a long and inglorious history of proposed space missions that never left the drawing board, and this one may yet prove to be the next addition to it. But what are real are the two indisputable facts, that NASA and Roscosmos have inked this partnership, and eventually there will have to be a replacement for the ISS. This project stands a good chance of being that replacement, which makes it of great interest to anyone with an interest in technology. It’s a little out of the world of usual Hackaday fodder, but if you are like us you will want to believe that one day it will be launched.

Even with a lunar orbiting space station, it will be a very long time indeed before we see manned missions going significantly further into the Solar system. Perhaps another approach is required to go further, a laser-driven silicon wafer aimed at a nearby star.

Moon image: 阿爾特斯 [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Flying The First Open Source Satellite

The Libre Space Foundation is an organization dedicated to the development of libre space hardware. It was born from the SatNOGS project — the winners of the first Hackaday Prize — and now this foundation is in space. The Libre Space Foundation hitched a ride on the Orbital ATK launch yesterday, and right now their completely Open Source cube sat is on its way to the International Space Station.

The cube sat in question is UPSat, a 2U cubesat that is completely Open Source. Everything from the chassis to the firmware is completely Open, with all the source files hosted on GitHub.

UPSat is currently on its way to the International Space Station stowed in an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft. From here, the UPSat will be unloaded by members of the current ISS expedition and deployed with help from NanoRacks. Basically, the first Open Source satellite will be tossed overboard from the International Space Station. If you want to listen in on the data UPSat is beaming down, build a SatNOGS ground station and tune into 435.765 MHz. With a good antenna, you should be able to hear it when the ISS is in the sky, or a few times a week.

You can check out the launch of the Cygnus the UPSat is flying on in the video below. NASA also recorded a 360° video from the launch pad that unfortunately cuts out in the first few seconds after launch.

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Hams in Space Part 2: The Manned Spaceflights

Whether it’s trying to make contacts across the planet with a transmitter that would have a hard time lighting an LED, or blasting signals into space and bouncing them off the moon, amateur radio operators have always been on the forefront of communications technology. As mankind took to space in the 1950s and 1960s, hams went along for the ride with the first private satellites. But as successful as the OSCAR satellites were, they were still at best only beacons or repeaters in space. What was needed was the human touch – a real live operator making contacts with people on the ground, showing the capabilities of amateur radio while generating public interest in the space program. What was needed was a ham in space. Continue reading “Hams in Space Part 2: The Manned Spaceflights”

Hacking when it Counts: Much Space Station Hacking Saved Skylab

Thanks to the seminal work of Howard and Hanks et al, the world is intimately familiar with the story behind perhaps the most epic hack of all time, the saving of the crippled Apollo 13 mission. But Apollo 13 is far from the only story of heroic space hacks. From the repairs to fix the blinded Hubble Space Telescope to the dodgy cooling system and other fixes on the International Space Station, both manned and unmanned spaceflight can be looked at as a series of hacks and repairs.

Long before the ISS, though, America’s first manned space station, Skylab, very nearly never came to fruition. Damaged during launch and crippled both electrically and thermally, the entire program was almost scrapped before the first crew ever arrived. This is the story of how Skylab came to be, how a team came together to fix a series of problems, and how Skylab went on to success despite having the deck stacked against her from the start.

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A Wearable Space Station Notifier

If you don’t live in northern Europe, Alaska, or the extreme southern part of South America, there’s a 400-ton, $150 Billion space station flying over your head several times a day. It’s the International Space Station, and it’s the most complex and expensive construction project of all time. Look up at the right time, and you can see a point of light rising in the sky, brighter than any star, darting across to the opposite horizon.

ISS-Above is a simple tool that will tell you when you’ll be able to see the ISS passing overhead next, and the creator of the project, [Liam Kennedy] has a new crowdfunding project to turn this space station notifier into a wearable. It’s called the Pulsar, and with the help of an RFduino and a real time clock, it will alert you to an upcoming station pass with a bit of wearable electronics.

ISS
Viewing the ISS at the most recent Hackaday Pasadena Meetup.

The ISS-Above is a great device to keep tabs on the six astronauts currently orbiting our globe, but if you want to see the space station rise over the horizon… well, lugging a Raspi and an HDMI monitor outside isn’t the best solution. The Pulsar is a tiny wearable board with a ring of LEDs programmed with 50 future passes of the space station. When the station is overhead, the LEDs light up, and a bright object appears over the western horizon.

[Liam] brought his Pulsar to the most recent Hackaday Pasadena meetup, and as his wearable LEDs lit up, the ISS appeared right on cue. The evening was only tainted by a crazy lady who decided to argue the existence of the International Space Station.

Video below.

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I Can Fix The Space Station With A Metronome, A Metronome, A Metronome

ISS

If the space station were left to its own devices, the living quarters would get incredibly hot. There are computers, hardware, and six crew members, all generating heat that must be gotten rid of. To do this, there are two heat exchangers inside the station that take warm water, dump that heat to ammonia, and send that ammonia out to panels outside the station. On December 11, 2013, Loop A of the thermal control system shut down, putting the station one failure away from evacuation. Plans for a spacewalk were tabled, but the ground crew managed to fix this hardware failure by telling the astronauts to push buttons, a metronome, and a software patch.

The problem with Loop A of the Internal Thermal Control System was a flow control valve that regulated the amount of ammonia flowing through the heat exchange. Too much ammonia, and the station would be far too cold. Too little, and it would be too hot. This valve is electronically controlled and takes exactly 13 seconds to move from open to closed. The first attempt at fixing the problem was having ground crew send the command to open the valve and cut the power halfway through. This involved using a metronome app on a phone to send two commands 6.5 seconds apart. It worked, but not quite well enough.

The failure of the metronome technique led [Todd Quasny] to write a script to turn the ‘on’ and ‘off’ commands from the ground to the ISS with millisecond resolution. This meant the commands to control the valve could be sent with the right delay, but they weren’t received with the right delay. This is a problem that had to be fixed from the station’s computers.

To finally solve the problem, ISS software engineer [Steve Joiner] was called in to write a software patch for the thermal control system. This is spaceflight and writing software is a long a laborious process of testing and code reviews. Nevertheless, the team managed to write and upload a patch in just two days.

This patch gave controllers the ability to control the valve with a resolution of 100 milliseconds, good enough for very fine control of the thermal system, and all without requiring the massive amount of planning that goes into a spacewalk or resupply mission.

Ups to [Ed Van Cise] for this tip. If you’re curious about the headline….

Raspi Notifies You Of Space Station Passes

ISS

A few months years ago, [Liam] funded a Kickstarter for a small desk toy that would tell him when the International Space Station was overhead. [Liam] got a little tired of waiting, so he decided to build his own with a Raspberry Pi and an astronomical computation Python library.

The impressive part of this build is computing where an orbiting object is in the sky given the ISS’ orbital elements. For this, [Liam] is using PiEphem, a library that can compute the positions of the sun, moon, planets, asteroids, and Earth-orbiting satellites given a location and a time. Since the ISS orbital elements change every so often, his software is set up to download an update every week or so.

[Liam] developed a few versions of his space station detector, each with a different display. The simplest uses a few LEDs, either through a LedBorg, Blinkstick, or PiGlow to serve as a notification of when the ISS is overhead. Two more complicated versions use an LCD display or LED matrix to signal when the next ISS pass will occur.

Video demo below.

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