The “Impossible” Tech Behind SpaceX’s New Engine

Followers of the Church of Elon will no doubt already be aware of SpaceX’s latest technical triumph: the test firing of the first full-scale Raptor engine. Of course, it was hardly a secret. As he often does, Elon has been “leaking” behind the scenes information, pictures, and even video of the event on his Twitter account. Combined with the relative transparency of SpaceX to begin with, this gives us an exceptionally clear look at how literal rocket science is performed at the Hawthorne, California based company.

This openness has been a key part of SpaceX’s popularity on the Internet (that, and the big rockets), but its been especially illuminating in regards to the Raptor. The technology behind this next generation engine, known as “full-flow staged combustion” has for decades been considered all but impossible by the traditional aerospace players. Despite extensive research into the technology by the Soviet Union and the United States, no engine utilizing this complex combustion system has even been flown. Yet, just six years after Elon announced SpaceX was designing the Raptor, they’ve completed their first flight-ready engine.

The full-flow staged combustion engine is often considered the “Holy Grail” of rocketry, as it promises to extract the most possible energy from its liquid propellants. In a field where every ounce is important, being able to squeeze even a few percent more thrust out of the vehicle is worth fighting for. Especially if, like SpaceX, you’re planning on putting these new full-flow engines into the world’s largest operational booster rocket and spacecraft.

But what makes full-flow staged combustion more efficient, and why has it been so difficult to build an engine that utilizes it? To understand that, we’ll need to first take a closer look at more traditional rocket engines, and the design paradigms which have defined them since the very beginning.

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Unleash Your Inner Starship Captain With This Immersive Simulator Console

We like a good video game as much as the next person. Heck, a few hours wasted with “Team Fortress 2” on a couple of big monitors is a guilty pleasure we’ll never be ashamed of. But this starship bridge simulation console brings immersive gameplay to a new level, and we wholeheartedly endorse it even if we don’t quite get it.

The game in question is “Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator”, a game played by anywhere from 2 to 11 players, each of whom mans a different station on the bridge of a generic starship, from Engineering to Communications to the vaunted Captain’s chair. The game is generally played on laptops linked together in a LAN with everyone in the same room, and as cool as that sounds, it wasn’t enough for [Angel of Rust]. The whole mousing back and forth to control the ship seemed so 21st-century, so he built detailed control panels for each of the bridge stations. The level of detail is impressive, as is the thought put into panel layouts and graphics. The panels are mostly acrylic in MDF frames, which allows for backlighting to achieve the proper mood. With the help of a bunch of Arduinos, everything talks to the game software over DMX, the protocol used mainly for stage lighting control. There’s a cool demo video below.

This is uber-nerd stuff, and we love it. Pyrotechnics and atmospherics would be a great addition for “realistic” battles, and dare we hope that someday this ends up on a giant Stewart platform flight simulator for the ultimate experience?

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Hacklet 35 – BeagleBone Projects

The Raspberry Pi 2 is just barely a month old, and now that vintage console emulation on this new hardware has been nailed down, it’s just about time for everyone to do real work. You know, recompiling stuff to take advantage of the new CPU, figuring out how to get Android working on the Pi, and all that good stuff that makes the Pi useful.

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that there’s another board out there that’s just as good in most cases, and in some ways better than the Pi 2. It’s the BeagleBone Black, and for this edition of the Hacklet, we’re focusing on all the cool BeagleBone projects on Hackaday.io.

lcdSo you have a credit card sized Linux computer and a small, old LCD panel. If it doesn’t have HDMI, VGA or composite input, there’s probably no way of getting this display working, right? Nope. Not when you can make an LCD cape for $10.

[Dennis] had an old digital picture frame from a while back, and decided his BeagleBone needed a display. A few bits of wire and some FPC connectors, and [Dennis] has a custom display for his ‘Bone. It’s better than waiting for that DSI display…

bed[THX1082] is making a bed for his son. This isn’t your usual race car bed, or even a very cool locomotive bed. No, this is a spaceship bed. Is your bed a space ship? No, I didn’t think so.

Most of the work with plywood, MDF, paint, and glue is done, which means the best feature of this bed – a BeagleBone Black with an LCD, buttons, a TV, and some 3D printed parts – is what [THX] is working on right now. He’s even forking a multiplayer networked starship simulator to run in the bed. Is your bed a starship simulator?

beer

Beer. [Deric] has been working on a multi-step fermentation controller using the BeagleBone Black. For good beer you need to control temperatures and time, lest you end up with some terrible swill that I’d probably still drink.

This project controls every aspect of fermentation, from encouraging yeast growth, metabolization of sugars, and flocculation. The plan is to use two circuits – one for heating and one for cooling – and a pair of temperature sensors to ensure the beer is fermenting correctly.


If you’re looking for more BeagleBone Projects, there’s an entire list of them over on Hackaday.io with GLaDOs Glasses, Flight Computers, and Computer Vision.