Tuesday, 12 February 2019


A snowy welcome on the saturday!

 The huuuge keynote by mad dog. Amazing sight!

I was incredibly lucky to go out to FOSDEM as part of the Libre Space Foundation (LSF) team the other week and despite lots of snow and travel disruption had a great time hanging out and working over in Brussels. It was my first time at FOSDEM and I was blown away by the worlds largest conference. It was fabulous to be able to move around and see and meet the teams behind some of the most prevalent open source software, debian, opensuse, grafana, gitlab, nextcloud and so many more. As currently I am freelancing mainly as a writer I made sure to have a little chat and express my thanks to the Libre Office team, whilst it might not be the most exciting platform in the world it does provide me with the basic tooling to earn my living!

Above, the Gitlab team who have been great supporters of LSF. 

LSF/SatNOGS contributors meet the Grafana team (and inform them of an Influx db bug they found!!)

Going out early the LSF set up camp in a large apartment (The Mansion) and LSF contributors poured in from all over europe staying a while to have meetings, hack on code and discuss development face to face. Its astonishing, humbling and exciting to see these volunteers pour their considerable skills into LSF project. As a more mechanical guy it was hard to follow much of the development but everyone was incredibly kind and patient and willing to teach others. Very affirming. (Although there was some discussion around rocketry hardware which funnily made me boot my tiny laptop to show how my ematch ignitor circuit works!)

Team... looking tired on the Saturday night!

Flying Ryan air means taking the worlds tiniest laptop!

A busy booth

FOSDEM was incredibly busy and I spent some time each day helping on the LSF booth, speaking to a constant flow of people from all over the planet about our missions to democratise space and provide open hardware and software to enable people to get involved. Hopefully it results in more people supporting what we do but also I feel sure that certainly a few more people are interested in moving towards setting up their own SatNOGS groundstations on the global network.

General picture dump..

Loved this!

So many LSF people! All in to see Alex Csete talk about our SDR makerspace project

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Project Roundup!

Been a while since I posted here so thought I might get the ball rolling again with a little round up of current projects I am tinkering on. Above is a picture of a planned level two rocket build I am starting to work on as it would be great if I could get my L2 certification flight and exam done this year and also pass my RSO (Range Safety Officer) as well. That would mean that it could be possible for me to officiate over other people HPR flights but could also look into the possibility of running a launch event more locally?

I've also on an off since before Xmas been tinkering with some odd parachute designs, first playing with plastic and tape and now moving to making a ripstop nylon version. These hexagonal annular parachutes fly quite well, have low side loading and seem very strong due to the way the shroud lines continue over the canopy. I'm slowly developing more skills and knowledge around recovery/chute making and have a few other projects I want to explore.

I've also been tinkering on and off with a simple GPS tracker design using a NEO6 gps board and  HC12 radios. My current off the shelf GPS tracker (works on mobile network) is too large for a 29mm rocket airframe I am considering and therefore this route gives more options in terms of getting it to fit. The tracker currently spits whole NMEA sentences which are received by another HC12 hooked up to the one note mini laptop and the whole thing acts as a wireless serial bridge. 

Finally been making, machining and tinkering with various things to write some more articles for Hackspace Magazine, I'm really enjoying the writing and hopefully the articles are being well received! I'll post a roundup of articles out so far after the next issue with some of my work is published.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

3d printed lathe carriage lock.

A while back I saw this  lathe accessory on thingiverse and downloaded the files, I printed the bits a few days ago and have been fiddling with it on and off, press fitting captive nuts inside it and tapping sections.

It's a handy little thing for 2 purposes, it has a profile that allows it to be clamped to the lathe ways and also has a clampable hole that accepts something that is 8mm diameter. So it's very handy for holding a dial test indicator (as above) for example to make a very precise last cut or other accurate positional stuff. 

It's also pretty useful with just an 8mm piece of steel bar in it and the bar can be set to a fixed position and it acts as a stop guide for the carriage. Useful for quickly making repeat passes/cuts on a job to the exact same point. I like the idea and it works ok, I might do a redesign at some point as I think making the assembly a bit wider would be useful and would increase its clamping force making it adhere to the ways more securely.

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 satnogs.org 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.