Countdown To A Spaceship Simulator

[Jon Petter Skagmo] claims that the spaceship simulator he’s working on is for his daughter, but we think there’s an excellent chance he’s looking to fulfill a few childhood dreams of his own. But no matter what generation ends up getting the most enjoyment out of it, there’s no question it’s an impressive build so far, complete with a very realistic-looking instrument display and joystick.

This is only the first in a series of builds, but our inner child is already intensely jealous. So far, [Jon] has built the instrument panel and controller that lights all buttons and runs the displays, which shows telemetry from a Falcon 9 launch. The video below goes into a lot of detail about how he built this SPI-driven instrument panel and why he made the whole thing modular, so it can be easily expanded without turning into a spaghetti-like mess.

It’s a great intro to thinking before you build, showing how he planned and built the system for maximum expandability and flexibility. Before the end, we wouldn’t surprised if he’s got quite a Kerbal Space Program controller on his hands for when the kid goes to bed.

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Parachute Drops Are Still A Viable Solution For Data Recovery From High Altitude Missions

Once upon a time, when the earliest spy satellites were developed, there wasn’t an easy way to send high-quality image data over the air. The satellites would capture images on film and dump out cartridges back to earth with parachutes that would be recovered by military planes.

It all sounds so archaic, so Rube Goldberg, so 1957. And yet, it’s still a viable method for recovering big globs of data from high altitude missions today. Really, you ask? Oh, yes indeed—why, NASA’s gotten back into the habit just recently!

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Solar Camera Built From Raspberry Pi

Ever since an impromptu build completed during a two-week COVID-19 quarantine back in 2020, [Will Whang] has been steadily improving his Raspberry Pi solar photography setup. It integrates a lot of cool stuff: multiple sensors, high bandwidth storage, and some serious hardware. This is no junk drawer build either, the current version uses a $2000 USD solar telescope (an LS60M with 200mm lens) and a commercial AZ-GTi mount.

He also moved up somewhat with the imaging devices from the Raspberry Pi camera module he started with to two imaging sensors of his own: the OneInchEye and the StarlightEye, both fully open source. These two sensors feed data into the Raspberry Pi 4 Compute Module, which dumps the raw images into storage.

Because solar imaging is all about capturing a larger number of images, and then processing and picking the sharpest ones, you need speed. Far more than writing to an SD Card. So, the solution [Will] came up with was to build a rather complex system that uses a CF Express to NVME adapter that can keep up, but can be quickly swapped out.

Unfortunately, all of this hard work proved to be in vain when the eclipse came, and it was cloudy in [Wills] area. But there is always another interesting solar event around the corner, and it isn’t going anywhere for a few million years. [Will] is already looking at how to upgrade the system again with the new possibilities the Raspberry Pi 5 offers.

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An observatory atop a hill

The Ultimate US Astronomy Roadtrip

Have 73 hours to kill and fancy a 4,609-mile road trip? Then you can check out some of the best observatories in the US (although we would probably recommend taking a couple of weeks rather than cramming the trip into three days, so you can spend at least one night stargazing at each).

Matador Network compiled a list of what they call the top ten US observatories, and published the daunting map you see above. Even if your trip is plagued by cloudy skies, rest assured the destinations will still be worth a visit. From Arizona’s Lowell Observatory, where the evidence Edwin Hubble used to formulate the Big Bang Theory was collected, to the Green Bank National Radio Observatory in West Virginia, home of Earth’s largest fully-steerable radio telescope, each site has incredibly rich history.

All of the observatories are open to the public in some way or another, but some are only accessible a few days per month, so make sure you plan your trip carefully! You may even want to travel with your own homemade telescope, Game Boy astrphotography rig, or, if you’re really dedicated, portable radio telescope.

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Voyager 2: Communication Reestablished With One Big Shout

You could practically hear the collective “PHEW!” as NASA announced that they had reestablished full two-way communications with Voyager 2 on Friday afternoon! Details are few at this point — hopefully we’ll get more information on how this was pulled off, since we suspect there was some interesting wizardry involved. If you haven’t been following along, here’s a quick recap of the situation.

As we previously reported, a wayward command that was sent to Voyager 2, currently almost 19 light-hours distant from Earth, reoriented the spacecraft by a mere two degrees. It doesn’t sound like much, but the very narrow beamwidth on Voyager‘s high-gain antenna and the vast distance put it out of touch with the Canberra Deep Space Network station, currently the only ground station with line-of-sight to the spacecraft. While this was certainly a problem, NASA controllers seemed to take it in stride thanks to a contingency program which would automatically force the spacecraft to realign itself to point at Earth using its Canopus star tracker. The only catch was, that system wasn’t set to engage until October.

With this latest development, it appears that mission controllers weren’t willing to wait that long. Instead, based on what was universally referred to in the non-tech media as a “heartbeat” from Voyager on August 1– it appears that what they were really talking about was the use of multiple antennas at the Canberra site to pick up a weak carrier signal from the probe — they decided to send an “interstellar shout” and attempt to reorient the antenna. The 70-m DSS-43 dish blasted out the message early in the morning of August 2, and 37 hours later, science and engineering data started streaming into the antenna again, indicating that Voyager 2 was pointing back at Earth and operating fine.

Hats off to everyone involved in making this fix and getting humanity’s most remote outpost back online. If you want to follow the heroics in nearly real-time, or just like watching what goes on at the intersection of Big Engineering and Big Science, make sure you check out the Canberra DSN Twitter feed.

Miners Vs NASA: It’s A Nevada Showdown

Mining projects are approved or disapproved based on all kinds of reasons. There are economic concerns, logistical matters, and environmental considerations to be made. Mining operations can be highly polluting, or they can have outsized effects on a given area by sheer virtue of the material they remove or the byproducts they leave behind.

For a proposed lithium mining operation north of Las Vegas, though, an altogether stranger objection has arisen. NASA has been using the plot of land as a calibration tool, and it doesn’t want any upstart miners messing with its work. 

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The Fake Moon Landing Quarantine

We aren’t much into theories denying the moon landing around here, but [Dagomar Degroot], an associate professor at Georgetown University, asserts that the Apollo 11 quarantine efforts were bogus. Realistically, we think today that the chance of infection from the moon, of all places, is low. So claiming it was successful is like paying for a service that prevents elephants from falling through your chimney. Sure, it worked — there hasn’t been a single elephant!

According to [Degroot], the priority was to protect the astronauts and the mission, and most of the engineering money and effort went towards that risk reduction. The — admittedly low — danger of some alien plague wiping out life on Earth wasn’t given the same priority.

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