Friday, 22 September 2017

Quick random hack! Digispark, neo pixels and USB battery


A few things collided this week... one being I managed to knacker my back and therefore spent some time trapped in the house! The next thing being the constant stream (as my long suffering postperson will attest) of small cheap random components from the far east creates little pools of tech that lie await for such times (you can tell I've not spoken to many people this week with my waffle?!). So I came across this small Digispark clone which I hadn't played with and I couldn't quite remember what I'd ordered it for! Essentially its a Attiny85 on a board with a PCB USB connector and after some trials and tribulations I managed to get an Arduino IDE to talk to it on a windows 7 machine (my linux box is poorly atm but that's another story!)

Also in the tech flotsam I have a few of those excellent poundland USB batteries and a small plan emerged! So with the addition  of a piece of white heatshrink glued to the battery pack into which I inserted a 8 pixel adafruit neo pixel strip (needs to be inside something cos dang they are bright!) and a microswitch glued to the side of the Digispark/Attiny board we have a switchable portable superbright mood light/torch! I've stuck a couple of strong neomydium magnets to the back of the USB battery so I can stick it to metal things! Its handy to stick to my field toolbox and also I've added a short strip of metal to the back of my larger rolling toolbox I use for workshops.. useful for a bit of light but also a be seen be safe addition on these dark winter nights! Code is just a tweaked version of the button cycler sketch from the adafruit neopixel library.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Level 1 Rocket Certification Achieved!

Panta Rhei on the rail ( and some dodgy geezer) Photo Credit Charles Simpson.

Panta Rhei is away... Photo credit Damian Burrin

Lovely to see the chute deployed! Photo Credit Damian Burrin

Just over a week ago I travelled down to the beautiful BMFA regional centre in Buckminster for the UK rocketry association AGM and launch day with my main purpose being to try and fly my completely scratch  built rocket "Panta Rhei" and achieve my level one certification in high power rocketry.

So I've been building up to this for a while and in a way I have done it in a tricky but rewarding manner.. I scratchbuilt Panta Rhei after creating the design in the opensource rocket design software Openrocket and it was designed to use some cheap cardboard postage tubes I had bought off ebay as opposed to tubes made specifically for rocketry. As postal tubes are slightly random sizes it means you have to make everything (nosecones, centring rings, coupling sections etc) from scratch and so you can't buy anything off the shelf that fits! So the cnc router and the 3d printer saw a lot of use in the construction of Panta Rhei... I went even further in that I didn't even buy a parachute I rather cut and stitched my own and even went as far as buying a length of Nomex to sew a flameproof parachute protector!

The other challenge for me, was that I (until arriving at this event) I had never been to a high power rocket event and had no knowledge/had never seen another high power rocket in real life! I had no real knowledge of launch rails and launch procedures or indeed how (apart from I had read in a book) the delay adjustment tools for rocket motors work or how they are packed etc...

The Saturday morning morning came and everyone started to show up.. I was quite nervous tbh and so pressed on to try and get the flight out of the way in the morning. I tell you what... HPR rocketry people are great... whilst I had to do everything myself in terms of the preparation of the rocket, everyone was there to give me advice if needed but also to leave me alone to work through prepping Panta Rhei. I was assigned a certifying officer Charles Simpson the chair of UKRA and my range safety officer (RSO) was Damian Burrin. Both of whom offered really constructive support and guidance. The other LEGEND of this story is another UKRA council member Andy Mell .. who is one of the most supportive guys you'd wish to meet, he gave lots of advice the night before and also allowed me to test fit Panta Rhei on the launch rail to check clearances etc. Andy had also brokered getting the motors (cesaroni 29mm H133 3 grain bluestreak) to me and also supplied me with some of the correct rail buttons I needed to fit the launch rail... and most importantly he was up for a pint in the local pub the night before!

Motor all prepped!

By around 11.30 am everything was ready and walked out to the launch rail and proceeded to mount Panta Rhei and  connect the ignitor. My nerves got the better of me though and after the obligatory photo I nearly forgot to remove the remove before flight tag that would arm the altimeter! However, the tag was removed, the bleeps confirmed the altimeter was working and I retreated to the launch controller. After the RSO and those present looked around the sky the RSO called that the airspace of interest was clear and gave me the signal to put the key in the launchpad.. once confirmed a countdown was given and I hit the button!

Panta Rhei leapt off the pad in a beautiful (even if I say so myself) vertical flight into lovely blues skies with no wind.. perfect! The motor fired the deployment charge a little after apogee and seperation was followed by a couple of heart stopping seconds before the bright yellow chute unfurled perfectly! I didn't have too long a walk but arrived to find Panta Rhei in great condition in a textbook landing with everything laid out in a straight line! Having launched and recovered with no damage... I'd passed my level 1 high power rocketry certification! The altimeter put the apogee at 460 meters which was around what was simulated.

So finally.. I can heartily recommend trying to get your L1 certification, but I definitely recommend its a good idea to go and check out how launch days work and look at some HPR rockets being prepped in advance if you can.. dates of launch events can be found on the UKRA website.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

My first ever review! Tool Hanging Hooks!

So, a while ago I posted a picture of a rocket I was building on twitter in my terribly cluttered and untidy shed and an account, @1Buy_UK suggested I might find some tool hanging hooks they sell useful. I cheekily replied "feel free to send me some for review".. and fair enough they have!

So full disclaimer is I did not pay for these but today 10 of these tool hooks arrived and I've put a couple up in the shed. They are pretty good, they are large enough to accept tools such as a spade or shovel handle and will happily take a saw handle.

For less "garden" items they are pretty useful too, when I am using the milling machine I always need to hand my large hammer and my 12" adjustable wrench, the wrench for removing my ER32 collet holder and the large hammer to give my drawbar a sharp tap to free the taper in the spindle, these hooks are perfect for both items.

So, all in all a thumbs up from me, and at £3.99 for 10 plus £1.20 postage they are a bargain and even come with the right amount of screws. Get them here

So there's my first hardware review.... who's next!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Manchester Makefest 2017

So here is my little photodump after Manchester MakeFest last weekend.. It was an interesting event for me as it didn't really feel at all like a maker fair.. more a collection of kids activities in the science museum.. However.. I had my kids and they enjoyed it although didn't really feel like they'd learnt anything new.. (although they've been to a lot of maker fairs now tbf!). I must admit I was a bit wary of how this event was going to pan out as it was astonishingly quiet on twitter and social media in the run up to it. That all said, it was great to catch up with people and lots of people really put a huge amount of work into their activities so massive respect and kudos to them.. particularly as I know how demanding 2 day events can be.

A small robot I made at the Hacman stall. I called it "spod" it requires iterations... :)

Harri playing minecraft... supposed to be coding minecraft.. but just playing minecraft!

The mighty Manchester Girl Geeks, was too busy to have a go but they where doing great work with conductive sewing kits.

The Hacman stall with the hacman crew doing all the hot glue and soldering for the build a robot activity (punters not allowed :(  )

The fabulous Made Invaders by the corking DoESLiverpool team.

Steve Varding one of the Drake Music artists did hourly shows and frankly smashed it! Great sounds me and the kids had a bit of a rave!

 And finally... Manchester Science Museum is a treasure trove of gauges for my @gaugeoftheday account :)

Friday, 4 August 2017

Inspace One 3rd Aug 2017

So last night I ran a space workshop, inspired by some of the stuff I heard at the UK space conference earlier in the year I decided it was about time I started to push myself to try and get a few more people possibly interested in space stuff locally. I am really passionate about the fact that I think a lot of people think the space sector is less accessible than it really is!

So kindly NorthWales Technology  (a meetup organisation for North Wales technologists of all flavours) hosted me and negotiated a space within Pontio Innovation, and also arranged out fabulous event sponsor S2recruitment who paid for a mass of pizza and refreshments.

So about 25 people turned up and I started of with some slides about the different routes I have come across that different individuals, startups or not for profits I've linked into have taken into getting into the space sector. I also looked at how these entities had funded their activities (from bootstrapping/crowdfunding, angel/VC, European space agency funding applications and finally through winning funding through competitions!).  We then spent the best part of 3 hours exploring the Astrosat and Huntsville CountyChamber competition that sits within the range of competitions currently running in the Space Exploration Masters program which is headed by AZO and ESA.

We looked at the Dream Chaser vehicle and the competition requirements that state that they are looking for commercial applications for dream chaser that use the platform beyond current earth observation and crew and cargo resupply missions and develop “space as service” ideas around themes of wider exploration of the universe, interplanetary, moon, mars missions etc. I armed the participants with some dream chaser plans, 3d printed models and a heap of pens and paper and off we went!

The ideas within this really wonderful varied cohort of people were fabulous and everyone really entered into the spirit of the evening... I'd love to give a complete list of the fascinating ideas that arose but frankly there were too many! However here are a few I recall...

  • Flat pack space laboratories, Dream Chasers are used to deploy and equip expanding LEO laboratories to allow scaling of microgravity research.
  • Multiple dream chasers as a wide reconfigurable interferometry platform for deep space exploration/measurement/telescopy.
  • Dream chaser as Biological lab allowing remote un-crewed safe environment for experiments using volatile/toxic/bacteria etc.
  • Space ark... an off world seed bank.
  • Dream chaser as Bio lab exploring biofuel using the different decay rates of organic material on orbit.
  • Dream chaser mission for 200 commercial cubesats to be flown to the moon.
  • Using SLA 3d printing and dream chaser to enable new 3d SLA techniques to be used as Dream chaser could create different gravity/reaction at differing parts of the print process.
  • Dreamchaser in LEO as Deployer for interplanetary cubesat missions.
  • A Dreamchaser dock in LEO, a multifaceted structure with an IBDM berthing docking ring on each face, inside a robotic system acts as cargo shifter to allow exchange of cargo/fuel/equipment between Dream Chaser allowing flexibility in usage.
  • Space recovery, Using dream chaser to de-orbit space debris but rather than burning up in atmosphere debris could be sold into the high value space collectors market.
  • Dreamchaser space burial!
  • Dreamchaser space prison (although we all thought this would encourage crime)!
  • Space tourism..... but dream chaser would need windows!

And many many more! We finished off the evening with a quick look at how people entered the competition and what details the competition required for entry. So, finally, I think everyone had a good time, apparent both in the room and also on twitter on the hashtag #inspaceone, I got this lovely tweet which really made my day as reducing barriers to space is exactly what I was aiming for!

And finally this lovely bit of written feedback... and yes... here's looking forward to Inspace Two!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Liverpool Makefest 2017

So here is my quick picture dump post from Liverpool Makefest 2017. I was there showing some rockets and satellites stuff and had a great spot as the first stall in the foyer so got to tell everyone a bit about how much fab stuff there was to see and do as well as talk rockets/space/satellites.

I had a great time and didn't take much time off my stall to walk around as I was enjoying myself.. on a quick break (cheers Crew members who covered my stall) I  ran round and took a few quick snaps... not great but give you a flavour of the day. Hats and caps doffed to the mighty Liverpool crew who put this all together.. top work...

Above.. my stall all set up!

Reception soon filled up!

Central library is such a good building! 

A group showing amateur radio tech and operation on the 4th floor terrace, great to see!

Top floor pilot a drone (with code) workshop!

Loadsa stuff happening on the top floor!

The mighty RC2014!

The CPC makerspace massive..

Very cool drone rover with thermal imaging... Nice chassis!

Still loads of people ... all day!

An absolute pleasure for me to meet these guys from the Librespace foundation.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

UK space conference part 3, Makers...(and Space Materials)

So probably my final post on the UK space conference 2017 as time is moving on! So during my time in the exhibition hall I saw some amazing technologies on display and also learnt of some amazing processes ranging from unit testing embedded systems, through new initiatives to make micro gravity science more accessible on the ISS through to the hydroxide-catalysis/silicate bonding of optical elements to a (beautiful) optical bed as part of the Lisa pathfinder interferometer pictured above.

It struck me as I walked around talking to everyone that it is JUST like a maker fair (but perhaps with less LEDs!) There are stalls that are purely outreach like the fantastic BIS, stalls selling tools, stalls selling measuring equipment, a vast majority of stalls showing and telling about their projects...

And the projects.. well they are super high tech and cutting edge a lot of the time..but although cutting edge often are they are essentially embedded systems..sensors and microprocessors with radios and antennas and power sytems...all classic maker fair projects!

These thoughts crystalised when I spoke (numerous times they were probably sick of me!) to the Ed Fagan booth, Ed Fagan are a global company that specialise in sourcing and supplying specialist alloys to the space industry. The first of which I heard about was 'Ultra 36' being discussed in a presentation by Chris Mahn.

 Frankly he had my attention just at the name as it sounds like a material from the marvel universe! On the stand we spoke about many of Ed Fagan metal products, Invar, Kovar, Ultra 36, they are materials with special properties such as special thermal properties. Objects in low earth orbit (ie satellites or the ISS) face a huge temperature range, for example without any thermal conditioning the ISS would range between plus 250 degrees celsius and minus 250 degress celsius so some of these special alloys are used as they contract and expand very little which is important as if something expands it might create a differential to the material it is attached too and cause it to fail.  Ultra 36 is an Iron, Nickel and Silica alloy useful for its low CTE (co-efficient of thermal expansion) and was developed as a partnership between Aerospace Metal Composites and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and the amazing James Webb telescope contains 429kg of this fascinating material.

But again, talking to the men and women on the Ed Fagan booth what struck me was how like a conversation at a maker fair it was.. we discussed how it machined, what kind of tooling you need, what feeds and speeds you might use, a maker contact on twitter asked if it could be 3d printed?  We discussed that it couldn't as due to the way the structure of the alloy is achieved it can only be cold worked. I've had such similar discussions about..which nozzle to 3d print a certain filament or what feed for a laser to get the best cut on ply what angle tool for engraving a single side PCB.. again.. we are all makers...and makers... do some space stuff!

Its left me with a desire to try and track down a small bit of one of these fancy alloys to play with and machine.. so Ed Fagan thanks again for your time.. and feel free to send me a sample!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

UK space conference part 2, Thoughts on Launch Development and Wales.

So part 2 . In this post I want to focus on the topics of UK launch provision and then focus in on some ideas for Wales... which could also equate to anywhere in the UK but Wales is where I live and I would love to see more space/astro/aero sector stuff happening! So I attended a plenary where all the speakers were talking about UK launch services, of course the space port licensing and development were discussed, but also the launch vehicles required for a space port where spoken about. The take away point for me was that although it may be possible to have some form of proto space port under way by the targeted year 2020 having a UK based and developed launch vehicle/s/system is very unlikely.

Any company bringing a launch vehicle online in this time frame would have to be at the stage of test launches (ahem Rocketlabs) now. The elephant in the room was that I don't think the UK is attractive to any of the larger players/primes involved in developing launch vehicles, vertical rockets or horizontal space plane. The challenges politically and the uncertainty of trade agreements due to Brexit are part of this, but also we are limited by our position on the planet, launch to LEO will be inefficient and whilst polar orbits may be achievable I think the larger players will look for easier sites.

The second takeaway point I took from the plenary is that all speakers agreed there were astonishing opportunities particularly for SME's to be disruptive in this sector in the UK. Launch providers are historically notoriously difficult to make profit in, are high risk and technically challenging, but these complexities, if embraced correctly, also provide the most opportunity for impact and innovation.

So here is my take on a possible progression route in Wales...

I think we need to play a longer game, I would love to see some energies focus on developing home grown launch vehicles, as mentioned, we are never going to hit the 2020 target, but could be a part of the 2030 target of the UKgarnering 10% of the expected £400 billion global spaceeconomy. I believe we need to invigorate ideas, explore bootstrapping and grass roots development and as such I look to numerous places for inspiration.

Firstly my recent trip to talk about Pocketqube satellite chassis development at the Delft Technical University also included a visit to the DARErocketry team . Basically they are well funded by sponsorship (3M, SAFRAN,ALTIUM, ANSYS, TUDelft and many more) and run a fascinating program which emulates the professional sector in that they hold contracts to supply rockets for programs like the CANSAT program, the program turns out fantastic young scientists and engineers who have a heap of very real industry experience and creates great vehicles which have held world records in altitude in non commercial flights. Having visited the team their energy and enthusiasm is as infectious and as inspiring as the IP developed and the learning undertaken.

A program like DARE in Wales could be achieved across the Universities or indeed could be formed privately in terms of an SME with commercial aims as well as an educative mission campaign. CANSAT type programs could be linked into school, colleges and voluntary sector STEM/STEAM orgs. There are numerous things in place already that would support it. For example, I've recently took a position on the council of the UK Rocketry Association , who manage insurance and accreditation for those wishing to fly high power larger rockets in the UK up with up to O impulse solid or hybrid motors. As well as accreditation, a technical safety panel and other services, we offer a program called “team rocket support”  which supports and guides teams wishing to build rockets at the top end of these impulse levels (level 3 certified). UKRA also has measures to streamline the number of people on teams who need to be accredited in order for a team to fly. For a developmental launch vehicle program I believe this is invaluable and provides easy to reach high altitude experimental platforms/sounding rockets within reach building not only technical expertise, but building the narrative of Wales in space.

Secondly the top image on this post is taken from the exhibition stand from Wales Aerospace and shows the unlimited ceiling de restricted airspace sat next to Wales, this provides huge possibilities for both horizontal launch and vertical. With the recent development of sea launch by organisations such as Copenhagen Sub Orbitals  (as well as Space X) I think this could provide a safe and exciting test bed area for launches prior to land based launches.

As ever, feel free to disagree... but I hope this post stimulates discussion and hopefully inspires some movement, action and progression.

In future posts I plan to talk about satellite developments that have already happened in Wales and also those organisations and companies that could easily mobilise in this sector and also about some fascinating materials I learnt about at the UK space conference. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

UK Space Conference part 1, Copernicus

If you follow me on twitter it won't be news to you that last week I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the mighty Zero Dependency to go to the 3 day UK Space Conference. I had an amazing time and there was a bewildering amount of stuff to see and hear and I'm going to share a few posts of curated bits and pieces I took away from it.

One of the first talks I went to was by Georgy Dean from Astrosat talking about the Copernicus Masters program, the ESA Copernicus  program is astonishing. Within the Copernicus mission three satellites Sentinel 1,2 and 3 are currently on orbit and have a wide range of sensors and imaging equipment doing earth observation. Every time they pass over the EU region they complete a full capture of all the sensors... and all this data is opensource. That’s an amazing amount of data that anyone can use and use cases were shown from local authorities looking at the change in green zones around cities to flood management research.

The Copernicus masters program seeks to maximise the impact the mission can have by promoting Copernicus data and enticing people to consider innovative uses for it in creating applications.
Joining the Copernicus masters competition means people can get a whole heap of support through from the program with regular series of online webinars and other support activities. There are competitions and funding opportunities for those creating interesting applications. In the closing part of Georgy’s talk it was notable that she felt that (due to the overwhelming amount of data available from Copernicus) the future of tackling this big data will possibly lie in the creative application of machine learning and AI.. so if you are into open data, big data and neural networks... get stuck in!

Stay tuned for part 2... when I get chance!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Bracketless Pocketqube Chassis Concept

I've been meaning to post about this since I went to Delft to talk about it but only got round to it now, despite the fact that the chassis I made to demonstrate this idea (pictured) currently sits in Switzerland en route to travel to Kathmandu this weekend to hopefully inspire engineers in the Orion Space program.

So I've been asked to machine a few Pocketqube chassis from square tubular stock, lots of people in the community seem to favour a tubular chassis approach as it has lots of strength and it has some shielding and thermal benefits over PCB construction. Invariably being asked to make skeletonised tube chassis  has led to also being asked to make tiny brackets that will attach end plates to it. Now ... it's certainly possible to do this but it takes a lot of time and may not be too accurate. Time wise it is tricky because .. well.. its fiddly... work holding such tiny items is a pain and when multiplied by a minimum of 8 brackets it loses all sense of fun! The other issue is they are difficult to make accurately.. so for the uninitiated in metal working, when you buy a square rod of say 6mm aluminium its surface finish will be OK for most things.. but for assembling something critical like a satellite end plate to the chassis it needs to have a good surface finish so that the bracket face sits flush onto the interior wall or walls of the chassis tube. This means that really for an 6mm bracket (L shaped or a 3 wall/surface design or just a cube with tapped holes) you really need to machine each of the mating faces which means you need to start off with probably 7/8mm stock and do a lot more operations. Finally the other consideration though is that the internal finish of the chassis will not be very precise either and will require spot facing (a small machining pass that levels the surface finish) but as this will be on an internal face (and usually in a corner) machining is often not an option.

This can lead to inaccuracies such as the bracket not sitting flush into the corner as shown (obviously not quite as dramatic as this in real life!) such as in the image below. This issue will reduce strength and particularly will cause issues when we consider that a M2 bolt with a 0.4mm pitch threaded into this bracket may only have 3 or 4 turns of thread to go into and at an angle the thread contact area will be reduced weakening the clamping effect and increasing forces onto the chassis and end plate.
So to overcome some of these problems I've developed an idea for a bracket less PQ chassis, simpler to machine, possibly stronger and also certainly more flexible in terms of mount points for internal or external components. My first prototype also adheres to the PQ60 specification. 

So basically the chassis is a tube design mounted to the base plate with a stack of PQ60 PCB mounted through the tube on threaded bars. Into either end of the tube a 1mm escutcheon is milled to a depth of 1.6mm allowing each end of the tube to receive (a light press fit) an FR4/PCB end plate. 

8 standoffs are made to be attached to the ends of threaded bars and these receive the bolts through the larger end plates. The making of these standoffs is much easier than brackets as they only require the mating face to be machined/cut square and to a reasonable surface finish, in fact if you drill the hole through the stock first I used a very fine slitting saw in the milling machine that cut these to a satisfactory finish with no further operations.
The stack assembly gives a benefit that the 2 end plates are pulled into the structure and (whilst I need to test on a vibration table) intuitively this seems very strong. 

Essentially as the internal stack floats in the tube this approach also maximises what can be done to the chassis tube, although in my prototype the skeletonisation is minimal any point of the structure (apart from the area surrounding the end plate) can indeed be skeletonised or used as a mount point. This is also true of the base plate as now fixings can be made at any point in the base plate creating maximum flexibility of the structural design. 
As ever, feel free to use any of these ideas and or get in touch if you need a chassis construction making.