Announcing: The 2022 Sci-Fi Contest

Ladies and Gentlemen, Sentient robots, Travellers from the distant future, or Aliens from the outer rim, it’s time to enter the 2022 Sci-Fi Contest!

We last ran the Sci-Fi contest in the far, far past — before the Voigt-Kampff machine was detecting replicants on the gritty streets of 2019’s LA. Back then, we had some out-of-this-world entries. It’s time for the sequel.

Thanks to Digi-Key, the contest’s sponsor, your best blaster, your coolest costume, or your most righteous robot could win you one of three $150 shopping sprees in their parts warehouse. Create a project, enter it in the contest, and you’re set. You might as well do that right now, but the contest closes on April 25th.

Sci-Fi is all about the looks, so if it’s purely decorative, be sure to blind us with science (fiction). If your project actually functions, so much the better! Of course we’d like to know how it works and how you made it, so documentation of the project is the other big scoring category. Whatever it is, it’s got to be sci-fi, and it’s got to have some electronics in it.

If you’re looking for inspiration, you could do a lot worse than to check out [Jerome Kelty]’s Animatronic Stargate Helmet, that not coincidentally took the grand prize last time around. It’s an artistic and engineering masterpiece all rolled into one, and the description of how it’s made is just as extensive. [Jochen Alt]’s “Paul” robot isn’t out of any particular sci-fi franchise that we know, but of rolling on one ball and reciting robot poetry, it absolutely should be.

Honorable Mentions

In addition to the overall prizes, we’ll be recognizing the best projects in the following honorable mention categories:

  • Star Star: Whether you’re “beam me up” or “use the force”, fans of either of the “Star” franchises are eligible for this honorable mention.
  • ExoSuit: This category recognizes sci-fi creations that you can wear. Costumes and armor fit in here.
  • Stolen off the Set: If your blaster looks exactly like Han Solo’s, you’re a winner here.  This is the category for your best prop replica.
  • Living in the Future: If your sci-fi device was purely fantasy when imagined, but now it’s realizable, you’re living in the future. A working tricorder or a functioning robot companion would fit in fine here.
  • The Most Important Device: Has no function, but it certainly looks like it does. Just blinking lights that blink back and forth, yet the government spent millions of dollars on it.

You don’t have to tell us where your project fits in. We’ve got you covered.


Get started now by creating a project page on In the left sidebar of your project page, use the “Submit Project To” button to enter in the 2022 Sci-Fi Contest.

You have from now until April 25, 2022 to get it finished. Of course, if your time machine actually works, you can finish it whenever. Check out the contest page for all the fine print.

Modules described in the article (two copies of the challenge shown, so, two lines of modules)

Spaceship Repair CTF Covers Hardware Hacker Essentials

At even vaguely infosec-related conferences, CTFs are a staple. For KernelCon 2021, [Tyler Rosonke] resolved to create a challenge breaking the traditions, entertaining and teaching people in a different way, while satisfying the constraints of that year’s remote participation plans. His imagination went wild in all the right places, and a beautifully executed multi-step hardware challenge was built – only in two copies!

Story behind the challenge? Your broken spaceship has to be repaired so that you can escape the planet you’re stuck on. The idea was to get a skilled, seasoned hacker solving challenges for our learning and amusement – and that turned out to be none other than [Joe “Kingpin” Grand]!

The modules themselves are what caught our attention. Designed to cover a wide array of hardware hacker skills, they cover soldering, signal sniffing, logic gates, EEPROM dumping and more – and you have to apply all of these successfully for liftoff. If you thought “there’s gotta be a 555 involved”, you weren’t wrong, either, there’s a module where you have to reconfigure a circuit with one!

KernelCon is a volunteer-driven infosec conference in Omaha, and its 2022 installment starts in a month – we can’t wait to see what it brings! Anyone doing hardware CTFs will have something to learn from their stories, it seems. The hacking session, from start to finish, was recorded for our viewing pleasure; linked below as an hour and a half video, it should be a great background for your own evening of reverse-engineering for leisure!

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered [Tyler]’s handiwork, either. In 2020, he programmed a batch of KernelCon badges while employing clothespins as ISP clips. Security conferences have most certainly learned just how much fun you can have with hardware, and if you ever need a case study for that, our review of 2019 CypherCon won’t leave you hanging.

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Project Orion: Detonating Nuclear Bombs For Thrust

Rockets with nuclear bombs for propulsion sounds like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, but it has been seriously considered as an option for the space program. Chemical rockets combust a fuel with an oxidizer within themselves and exhaust the result out the back, causing the rocket to move in the opposite direction. What if instead, you used the higher energy density of nuclear fission by detonating nuclear bombs?

Detonating the bombs within a combustion chamber would destroy the vehicle so instead you’d do so from outside and behind. Each bomb would include a little propellant which would be thrown as plasma against the back of the vehicle, giving it a brief, but powerful push.

That’s just what a group of top physicists and engineers at General Atomic worked on between 1958 and 1965 under the name, Project Orion. They came close to doing nuclear testing a few times and did have success with smaller tests, exploding a series of chemical bombs which pushed a 270-pound craft up 185 feet as you’ll see below.

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Delta Clipper: A 1990s Reusable Single-Stage To Orbit Spaceship Prototype

With all the talk of SpaceX and Blue Origin sending rockets to orbit and vertically landing part or all of them back on Earth for reuse you’d think that they were the first to try it. Nothing can be further from the truth. Back in the 1990s, a small team backed by McDonnell Douglas and the US government vertically launched and landed versions of a rocket called the Delta Clipper. It didn’t go to orbit but it did perform some extraordinary feats.

Origin Of The Delta Clipper

DC-XAThe Delta Clipper was an unmanned demonstrator launch vehicle flown from 1993 to 1996 for testing vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) single-stage to orbit (SSTO) technology. For anyone who watched SpaceX testing VTOL with its Grasshopper vehicle in 2012/13, the Delta Clipper’s maneuvers would look very familiar.

Initially, it was funded by the Strategic Defence Initiative Organization (SDIO). Many may remember SDI as “Star Wars”, the proposed defence system against ballistic missiles which had political traction during the 1980s up to the end of the Cold War.

Ultimately, the SDIO wanted a suborbital recoverable rocket capable of carrying a 3,000 lb payload to an altitude of 284 miles (457 km), which is around the altitude of the International Space Station. It also had to return with a soft landing to a precise location and be able to fly again in three to seven days. Part of the goal was to have a means of rapidly replacing military satellites should there be a national emergency.

The plan was to start with an “X” subscale vehicle which would demonstrate vertical takeoff and landing and do so again in three to seven days. A “Y” orbital prototype would follow that. In August 1991, McDonnell-Douglas won the contract for the “X” version and the possible future “Y” one. The following is the story of that vehicle and its amazing feats.

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Mom, I’ll Be In My Attic Spaceship

Most attics sit empty or serve as storage space to keep infrequently used items out of sight. Many of us keep boxes of half-completed abandoned projects there. But some people turn the attic itself into the project: this past Christmas some very lucky children received a spaceship playroom in the attic. [Titospot] shared his project via an Imgur album.

The cramped space lends itself to the theme as real-life spacecraft have never been known for interior spaciousness. The builders are skilled enough at standard home improvement tasks of building out and finishing a room, then they took their step into the unknown by building a control panel for the spaceship.  [Titospot’s] caption text reveals some insecurity with his electronics build quality but, hey, we all had to start somewhere! Few of our first electronics projects were as much fun as his spaceship control panel. Packed with buttons and switches that trigger light and sound, it is sure to become the focus of many imaginary adventures to galaxies far, far away.

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Life Sized Lego Spaceship Parts

Ah, 1980s space Lego sets. You may think the pirate ship and castle sets are cooler, but you’re wrong, because spaceship. spaceship. spaceship.

These space Lego sets had some very interesting parts, with tiny two-by sloped pieces printed with Lego analogs of computers, monitors, phones, intercoms, speakers, control panels, and everything else that makes a voxellated spaceship fly to the moon. Now, these pieces are functional, and they’re nearly life-size.

[Love Hultén] took these fantastic parts, modeled them, and scaled them up to six times normal Lego dimensions. These blocks were then fitted with buttons, displays, the guts of an old telephone, and all the other accoutrements to make these bricks functional. Two computer blocks can be connected together, and it will play video games with a Lego-shaped controller. The intercom works, and the buttons on control panels can be used to turn on lights.

It should be noted the Lego family is more than just the small bricks that really hurt when you step on them. Duplo, the blocks made for children who would stuff Lego down their own throats, is twice the size of Lego. Quatro are blocks made for toddlers, and are twice the size of Duplo and four times the size of Lego. Since [Love] made blocks that are six times the size of normal Lego blocks, we’ll leave it up to the comments to determine what this class of blocks should be named.

Video below.

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UK Hackerspace Builds Mobile Spaceship Disaster Simulator


A spaceship simulator sounds fun. But a spaceship disaster simulator is pure win. Members of the London Hack Space poured their hearts and souls into this build which they call the LHS Bikeshed. Now they’re taking the show on the road, letting attendees of Maker Faires all over the UK try their hand at beating the Kobayashi Maru disaster simulation.

The real question is how do you take your simulator on the road with you? You build it in an old camper (or caravan as the Brits call it). The towable sleeping quarters were gutted to make room for the well-crafted command center seen above. The demonstration video also shows off some bulkhead doors which open to reveal a wiring mess that must be fixed to prevent a disaster. Not only does the physical build really sell the concept, but the audio and video produced for the simulator look fantastic too. The link above is a recent post, but you should dig through their archives see multiple steps during the project build.

It makes us thing we should keep going with our VW Bus hacking.

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