Satellite Provides Detailed Data On Antarctic Ice

Ever since the first satellites started imaging the Earth, scientists have been using the data gathered to learn more about our planet and improve the lives of its inhabitants. From weather forecasting to improving crop yields, satellites have been put to work in a wide array of tasks. The data they gather can go beyond imaging as well. A new Chinese satellite known as Fengyun-3E is using some novel approaches to monitor Antarctic sea ice in order to help scientists better understand the changing climate at the poles.

While it is equipped with a number of other sensors, one of the more intriguing is a piece of equipment called WindRad which uses radar to measure wind at various locations and altitudes based on how the radar waves bounce off of the atmosphere at various places.  Scientists have also been able to use this sensor to monitor sea ice, and can use the data gathered to distinguish new sea ice from ice which is many years old, allowing them to better understand ice formation and loss at the poles. It’s also the first weather satellite to be placed in an early morning orbit, allowing it to use the long shadows cast by the sun on objects on Earth’s surface to gather more information than a satellite in other orbits might be able to.

With plenty of other imaging sensors on board and a polar orbit, it has other missions beyond monitoring sea ice. But the data that it gathers around Antarctica should give scientists more information to improve climate models and understand the behavior of sea ice at a deeper level. Weather data from satellites like these isn’t always confined to academia, though. Plenty of weather satellites broadcast their maps and data unencrypted on radio bands that anyone can access.

Kites Fill Electricity Generation Gaps

Looking at a wind turbine from first principles, it’s essentially a set of wings that generate lift in much the same way an airplane wing does. Putting the wings on a rotor and calling them “blades” is not a huge step away from that. But there’s no reason the wing has to rotate, or for that matter be attached to a fixed platform, in order to generate electricity. Anything that generates lift can be used, and this company is demonstrating that with their kite-powered wind generators.

Like other wind energy producers that have used kites to generate electricity, this one is similar in that the kite is flown in a figure-8 pattern downwind where it can harness energy the most efficiently, pulling out a tether which is tied to a generator. When fully extended, it is flown to a position where the wind doesn’t strike the kite as strongly and the tether is reeled in. Unlike other kite generators we’ve seen, though, this one is offered as a turnkey system complete with battery backup and housed in a self-contained shipping unit, allowing it to be deployed quickly to be used in situations where something like a diesel generator would be impossible to get or where the fuel can’t be obtained.

The company, called Kitepower, does note that these aren’t replacements for traditional wind turbines and would be used more for supporting microgrids. There are still some advantages to using kites over fixed turbine blades though: kites can reach higher altitude where the wind is stronger, and they require less materials for a given amount of energy production, often making them even more environmentally friendly and possibly more economical as well. Surprisingly enough, kites can also be used to generate energy even in places where there’s no wind at all.

Go Fly A Kite

Harvesting energy from the wind has been a commercially viable way of generating clean energy for around three decades now. Wind turbines are a reliable, proven technology but they do have some downsides, one of which is that since there’s more wind higher above the ground this usually means tall, expensive towers. There is a way around this problem, though, which is using kites to generate energy instead of a fixed turbine.

While kite generators aren’t a new idea, [Benjamin] has been working on this kite generator which has a number of improvements over existing kite generators. Like other kite generators, this one uses a tether to spin a generator which is located on the ground. But while this is similar to other kite systems, this prototype has a much simpler design and sweeps a much larger area while in flight. It also has an autopilot with multiple independent steering systems, which [Benjamin] says will allow it to stay in flight for months at a time provided there is enough wind. If there isn’t, it can land reliably, and launching it is relatively fast and simple as well.

While kites do have some obvious downsides compared to fixed turbines including a single point of failure at the tether and a large amount of cleared area to operate, they have plenty of advantages as well. They’re smaller, simpler, require no complicated yaw system, and can be easily maintained on the ground. In fact, it’s possible to build very simple kite generators out of nothing more than a hobby kite and some readily-available electrical components.

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Full Size 3D-Printed Wind Turbine

Wind energy isn’t quite as common of an alternative energy source as solar, at least for small installations. It’s usually much easier just to throw a few panels and a battery together than it is to have a working turbine with many moving parts that need to be maintained when only a small amount of power is needed. However, if you find yourself where the wind blows but the sun don’t shine, there are a few new tools available to help create the most efficient wind turbine possible, provided you have a 3D printer.

[Jan] created this turbine with the help of QBlade, a piece of software that helps design turbine blades. It doesn’t have any support for 3D printing though, such as separating the blades into segments, infill, and attachment points, so [Jan] built YBlade to help take care of all of this and made the software available on the project’s GitHub page. The blades are only part of this story, though. [Jan] goes on to build a complete full-scale wind turbine that can generate nearly a kilowatt of power at peak production, although it does not currently have a generator attached and all of the energy gets converted to heat.

While we hope that future versions include a generator and perhaps even pitched blades to control rotor speed, [Jan] plans to focus his efforts into improving the blade design via the 3D printer. He is using an SLA printer for these builds, but presumably any type of printer would be up to the task of building a turbine like this. If you need inspiration for building a generator, take a look at this build which attempted to adapt a ceiling fan motor into a wind turbine generator.


Weather Station Gets Much-Needed Upgrades

Weather stations are a popular project, partly because it’s helpful (and interesting) to know about the weather at your exact location rather than a forecast that might be vaguely in your zip code. They’re also popular because they’re a good way to get experience with microcontrollers, sensors, I/O, and communications protocols. Your own build may also be easily upgradeable as the years go by, and [Tysonpower] shows us some of the upgrades he’s made to the popular Sparkfun weather station from a few years ago.

The Sparkfun station is a good basis for a build though, it just needs some updates. The first was that the sensor package isn’t readily available though, but some hunting on Aliexpress netted a similar set of sensors from China. A Wemos D1 Mini was used as a replacement controller, and with it all buttoned up and programmed it turns out to be slightly cheaper (and more up-to-date) than the original Sparkfun station.

All of the parts and code for this new station are available on [Tysonpower]’s Github page, and if you want to take a look at a similar station that we’ve featured here before, there’s one from three years ago that’s also solar-powered.

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Spin Me Right Round, Baby: Generator Building Experiments For Mere Mortals

How many of you plan to build a wind-powered generator in the next year? Okay, both of you can put your hands down. Even if you don’t want to wind your coils manually, learning about the principles in an electric generator might spark your interest. There is a lot of math to engineering a commercial model, but if we approach a simple version by looking at the components one at a time, it’s much easier to understand.

For this adventure, [K&J Magnetics] start by dissect a commercial generator. They picked a simple version that might serve a campsite well, so there is no transmission or blade angle apparatus to complicate things. It’s the parts you’d expect, a rotor and a stator, one with permanent magnets and the other with coils of wire.

The fun of this project is copying the components found in the commercial hardware and varying the windings and coil count to see how it affects performance. If you have ever wound magnet wire around a nail to make an electromagnet, you know it is tedious work so check out their 3D printed coil holder with an embedded magnet to trigger a winding count and a socket to fit on a sewing machine bobbin winder. If you are going to make a bunch of coils, this is going to save headaches and wrist tendons.

They use an iterative process to demonstrate the effect of multiple coils on a generator. The first test run uses just three coils but doesn’t generate much power at all, even when spun by an electric drill. Six windings do better, but a dozen finally does the trick, even when turning the generator by hand. We don’t know about their use of cheap silicone diodes though, that seems like unintentional hobbling, but we digress.

Making turbine blades doesn’t have to be a sore chore either, and PVC may be the ticket there, you may also consider the vertical axis wind turbine which is safer at patio level. Now, you folks building generators, remember to tip us off!

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Low Power Weather Station Blows The Competition Away

Building a weather station isn’t too tall of an order for anyone getting into an electronics project. There are plenty of plans online, and you can even put your station on Weather Underground if it meets certain standards. These usually have access to a reliable source of power, though, and like any electronics project can get challenging quickly once it needs to work reliably in a remote location. The weather station from [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] has met this challenge though, and has been working reliably for three years now.

Getting that sort of reliability from any circuit that has to be powered by an unreliable source (solar, wind, etc.) and a battery is quite a challenge. Not only do you need to sort out the power management and make sure that you can get enough sun in the winter for your application, but you’ll need to do some extreme low power modifications to your circuitry as well. This weather station accomplishes all of that, helped by using LoRa for communication, and also comes complete with a separate hardware watchdog timer that can reboot the weather station if it loses power or hangs up for some reason.

If you’ve been looking for a weather station to build, this is a great place to start. [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] also goes through the assembly of the weather station, complete with a guy-wire-supported platform to mount it on. There are other weather stations out there too, if you need even more ideas about saving power in remote areas.