Thursday, 13 December 2018

Scheduling an Observation on SatNOGS

The other week, as part of my presentation at INSPACE 3 I included a few slides about how simple it is to schedule an observation on a satNOGS ground station. If you build and deploy your own  ground station as part of the network you can then schedule any station on the network, but until you do that you can't and that means that this aspect of satNOGS operation remains unseen. I realised at this talk that people might feel that this part of operating a SatNOGS station is complex! Let me reassure you it isn't! All scheduling happens via the website and lets walk through how it works!

So when you log in you get sent to your dashboard  landing on your stations page. Above we see my station number 217. There's some basic info about the station and a map. As a side note if I am here to check a previous observation on my station I can hit the blue "view all" button and it takes me to a list of observations. However we are going to scroll down and set up a new future observation.
So if we scroll down on our station landing page we get to a box which is continually populated with the future passes of satellites above our station. It has on the left the name of the satellite and a meter which tells us the historic success of satNOGS stations being able to get a good observation of the satellite (this gives a kind of health status of the satellite). Next we see the time frame of the pass then some details about the elevation. Finally a small plot of the pass with the centre of the cross hair representing the position of our ground station, basically the satellite will pass from the green end of the line towards the red. The last object on the right is a schedule button to begin to arrange an observation of that satellite on that pass. However lets just quickly have a look at another useful thing!
Back on the left hand side you might notice that each of the satellite names is actually a link. There are so many satellites out there and on the SatNOGS database it's unlikely you will know them all by name! So if you click on the link you get a pop up with an overview of the satellite. For example, above I clicked on the Fox 1B name and it shows me that it is a 1 unit cubesat and that it has a pretty good record of being successfully observed
Next, we have closed that popup, and we have clicked the schedule button to set up a new observation of the Fox 1B satellite. We are sent to this page (above) which has details of the satellite and the pass and also a drop down list of the possible transmitters we can schedule to observe. This is important as some satellites may have numerous types of transmitters or transmission we can try to observe. For example a satellite may have a voice aspect (as in radio operators speaking through the satellite as a kind of satellite repeater) but also might have some data being sent separately as telemetry giving details of the satellites condition. Having made sure to select the transmission we want to observe we then click the green schedule button.

So we now have an upcoming observation setup and we see the observations individual page. This page (unless for some reason we  decide to delete it) will remain as a unique page for this observation. After our station has performed the scheduled observation it should populate with the observation data. So if we come back to this page after the observation we should see an image of the waterfall. 
Like so! Above is an observation page after the observation and we land on the waterfall tab, if we click the audio tab we should be rewarded with an audio file of the observation which we can play in the browser or download.

We can also click through to the data tab, now this may be empty dependant on the type of observation and  if we were looking for data or not,  but if we did receive some data it should be on this tab. 

So above we see some telemetry frame data from the FOX 1 A satellite, for this particular satellite we could copy this data and run it through the free software made available on the satellites mission website and decode what the data means. However for an increasing number of satellites the satNOGS network is set up to decode the data and present it in this tab. This could take different forms but for example if we observe the NOAA satellites we may return to a decoded image in this tab!

So that's it in a nutshell, I mentioned earlier that on the first dashboard landing page we might click the "view all" observations button and that's a handy way to get to all the observations in a list that our station has either completer or has pending.

 I hope that that little walk through is useful and shows just how simple it is to get going once you have your station set up! So join us and you can also get hunting satellites! If you are interested in setting up a satNOGS station there are loads of sources of help, not least the satNOGS area on the libre space foundation community forum.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Ten Minute Tinker! Embossing with 3d prints.

Recently hackaday ran an article where someone had embossed some stuff using a 3d print to act as the embossing stamp... Intrigued I thought I would give it a go.

So it works! I printed the small rocket in PLA with 0.8mm walls and a 50% infill to make it really tough. I stuck it to a bit of scrap ply (would have been better on a thicker block of something more hardwood!) and then clamped it in a small vice to emboss this little notepad.

It's worked well and I'll see how long or if the embossed logo fades out or decompresses over the next few weeks. I think next time I will dig out the arbor press as it would be easier to align and I wouldn't be limited to putting the stamp at the edges of items! It's such good resolution that it actually shows the fine lines in the 3d print, so I should really CNC some aluminium stamps to do this properly!

Monday, 26 November 2018

INSPACE 3, Satnogs, Wales Aerospace and SDR radios

Last week I ran the 3rd event in my INSPACE series of events which have all been hosted by North Wales Technology (INSPACE ONE HERE , INSPACE TWO HERE!). This INSPACE theme was Software Defined Radios (SDR) and the event was split into 2 main sections. I started the evening with a presentation about the Libre Space Foundation (LSF) and in particular the SatNOGS  project which is a global networked system of opensource satellite ground stations. I wanted to tell the story to the INSPACE audience for a couple of reasons. The main reason is I think it is an inspiring story how LSF have bootstrapped a plethora of space technologies, missions and projects in a unique way, not just opensource, but also outside of military and defence development methodologies. The second reason is that I had negotiated some sponsorship from  Aerospace Wales Forum to not only sponsor the INSPACE 3 event with pizza and drinks but also to sponsor a project to deliver the required hardware for a SatNOGs ground station install on one of  Bangor Universities buildings. Its excellent that they supported this project idea and also excellent that they came over to this event and support it on the night.

And what a night we had, after my talk about LSF and SatNOGs we heard from Richard who works for Glyndwr Innovations who told us about the varied payload development projects there are at the St Asaph Optical cluster and also about the high end engineering systems that are hosted within Glyndwr's campus. He went on to describe a recent program Glyndwr innovations ran to deliver some small funding grants to local startups for research and or engineering/validation with the funding coming from the UK space agency. It's excellent to see that there are organisations working to bringing this funding into North Wales to develop the space industry ecosystem here.

After some pizza networking the 2nd half of the evening was in the capable hands of Luke and Chris who hosted and informal workshop getting everyone started with RTL SDR's. These are a cheap USB dongle originally designed for use as digital TV receivers for laptops but they actually contain a very capable software defined radio receiver and as can be used for lots of radio usage (and indeed they underpin the whole of the SatNOGs ecosystem so it maintained the subject for the evening)!.

By the time we had finished everyone who wanted to had installed and got up and running with a SDR dongle on a variety of platforms, of course windows and linux and mac but also a few people used them with their android phones etc. We had some attempts at trying to hear a satellite outside the venue but with not perhaps the best antenna or indeed the best passes of satellites success was limited, we did mange to get an ADSB setup running and see some aeroplane transponders... but the cold quickly beat us back inside!

We finished the evening with Chris transmitting some SSTV Images... including the North Wales Tech logo and the attendees capturing and decoding the images, fabulous fun and I want to extend massive thanks to Chris and Luke for their help in running what I feel was another successful INSPACE event! Finally massive thanks also need to go to Carwyn from NW Tech who puts in astonishing amounts of work for the cause, Arleosi Pontio Innovation for once again hosting the event in their co-work space and Wales Aerospace Forum for the aforementioned sponsorship.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

New venture! Podcasting!

So yes... I've considered setting up a podcast for years and never got round to it... but just decided to go for it! Here is the first test episode with random sung intro music and a 5 minute anecdote... hopefully more to come! All suggestions and comments welcome.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Quick make! Making boxes useful with a 3d printer!

Aaaaaages ago my dad gave me a huge box full of these small 'raaco' stacking boxes that had been chucked out of a business somewhere and had been given to him. I have used a few on my workbench loose and they make really useful project boxes for holding small parts as I am working on something, or I've used them to sort electronic components when doing batch assembly. They also stack well but they don't have lid and I don't have a case for them which limits their use a bit. I keep contemplating making a larger box for them to stack into but then I had this little idea to 3d print some lids with holes for some cord, I can now fasten and transport them whilst keeping every thing safely inside making them much more useful! Using a bit of cord and a drawstring toggle means that the lid can close different multiples of boxes.

Also whilst I am here.. someone got in touch the other week and asked to make a donation to me as he had been inspired by a post on here! That was very cool and humbling, so in case anyone else wants to buy me a coffee I've added a donate button to the blog! Feel free to use it!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Proud to have a rocket article in Hackspace magazine!

Rather wonderfully a couple of months this back the mighty Hackspace magazine visited Midland Rocketry Clubs "Midland Sky" event and flew a couple of their own model rockets and met and chatted with everyone there. They explained they wanted to run some rocketry features in an upcoming issue... And indeed the have in issue 12. It's not all rockets but there's a good chunk of rocket articles in there covering model rocket 101, interviews with the mighty thrust vectoring Joe Barnard/BPS space and also an article by yours truly! Based on a document I wrote up off the back of my rocket design workshops my article takes people through designing and simulating a rocket using the Openrocket software. Really pleased to be included and hope it helps bring a few new people to look at rocketry. You can download a free pdf of Hackspace magazine via the website but can also order a print copy which also can be found in all good magazine stockists! 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Scratch built 29mm rocket anchor point (Or why do things the easy way!)

So I am working on a design for a minimum diameter 29mm rocket air-frame which means that the motor directly fits into the complete internal diameter of the rocket with no space around it. Common practice with larger rockets is to use an internal motor mount tube mounted in some centring rings, the fore centring ring usually is where the builder will place an eyelet or lifting bolt that will be the anchor for the recovery system/parachutes etc.

Obviously without this centring ring you need to come up with a different solution. I want to have the option of using the motor ejection charge so needed something that gases can expand through but also it needs to be strong. I recently picked up 2nd hand an aluminium anchor point for a larger 38mm air-frame off another rocket builder via Facebook and a discussion followed about how with a smooth metal outer finish it was difficult to get them to adhere/epoxy to the inside of an air-frame. So my idea was to make a similar anchor point to receive a lifting eye but to make it slightly under size and then knurl it to be a better fit and to maximise the keying surface for when it is epoxied into the air frame tube. The knurling is pretty badly done and definitely not decorative but it is definitely going to allow a small amount of epoxy to create the strong bond needed.

So why the "Why do things the easy way" bit... Well... after a search of the material/scrap pile I didn't have a piece of aluminium of large enough diameter to make this component. So I have done it the hard way! I started of making a very crude casting from some melted aluminium! With my very dinky little kiln!

I then poured the melt into a crude mould made from some of my diy casting sand (silica play sand and bentonite clay sourced from cat litter (unused... I a NOT that much of a cheapskate!)

The crude casting was then chucked up in the lathe (the cheap 2nd hand mini lathe I bought a while back) and turned to round.

I then realised none of the suitable boring tools I had actually fit in the toolpost of the mini lathe so I parted off the job and transferred it to my old faithful perfecto lathe and bored out the inside. Its somehow more pleasing when you really have made something from scratch!