At the UK Space Conference in July 2013, Tranquility Aerospace and Uchusen announced a novel collaboration project for 2013-2015 around Tranquility Aerospace’s Devon One reusable rocket project. Uchusen’s latest in-house engineering work this year was presented, including original nanosatellite sensor boards development, a fully integrated autonomous minidrone prototype, and associated flight data from multiple low-level flight tests.

As Tranquility Aerospace finalises its first engine prototype, Uchusen’s role is to help develop high-precision flight control systems for the liquid rocket propulsion system, as well as nanosatellite sensor systems for future payload deployment into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). If all goes well, a first integrated hover test is currently planned for Summer 2014, followed with a trial launch in 2015.

About Tranquility Aerospace

Tranquility Aerospace Ltd. design, manufactures and assembly for the space industry and is currently developing its own launch vehicle, so as to provide a full turn-key solution to our customers. Website: www.tranquilityaerospace.com

About Uchusen

Uchusen is the world’s first dronesat systems developer, based in London and Berlin. We design, develop and integrate minidrone and nanosat systems for spaceborne activities. Website: www.uchusencompany.com

[image credits: (all images) Uchusen Company; (excl. bottom-right image) Tranquility Aerospace Ltd]

Well, didn’t make it to Conrad but instead implemented a quick-and-dirty setup with Arduino Uno and couple of wires. Not ideal but will do for a first appraisal. Tested the sonar straight from pin#2 and output fine with stated 58us/cm. Was coming up with 60-odd cm which I thought strange, before I realised I was coding around the piece and my head was getting in the way of the pulse profile! Moved out of range and the ceiling came up pretty steady at 220cm, which is about right.
Merged with code for the temperature/barometer sensor and worked out fine outputting at 9.6kbps. BBC weather info gave 1015mb for local air pressure but the uncalibrated sensor was reading 1005mb-odd, giving an altitude discrepancy of 55m to 66m… need more testing to see what could be the difference or which reading to use. GPS unit not getting any readings for some reason with the original code, maybe cloud cover is too heavy (?) but L-band shouldn’t be affected regardless. Weird. Try again tomorrow, hopefully better weather though I doubt it.
In other (not good) news, the solar power system is not responsive for some reason, so first assume the batteries are empty as haven’t charged them up for a while. The Libelium Li-Ion battery charger (step-down) unit also didn’t respond to backup USB plug-in power, so maybe this unit is dead too. Will try tomorrow in whatever little sunshine comes through the snow clouds… if the solar panel check LED still doesn’t light up, will be needing a new charger unit.

Well, didn’t make it to Conrad but instead implemented a quick-and-dirty setup with Arduino Uno and couple of wires. Not ideal but will do for a first appraisal. Tested the sonar straight from pin#2 and output fine with stated 58us/cm. Was coming up with 60-odd cm which I thought strange, before I realised I was coding around the piece and my head was getting in the way of the pulse profile! Moved out of range and the ceiling came up pretty steady at 220cm, which is about right.

Merged with code for the temperature/barometer sensor and worked out fine outputting at 9.6kbps. BBC weather info gave 1015mb for local air pressure but the uncalibrated sensor was reading 1005mb-odd, giving an altitude discrepancy of 55m to 66m… need more testing to see what could be the difference or which reading to use. GPS unit not getting any readings for some reason with the original code, maybe cloud cover is too heavy (?) but L-band shouldn’t be affected regardless. Weird. Try again tomorrow, hopefully better weather though I doubt it.

In other (not good) news, the solar power system is not responsive for some reason, so first assume the batteries are empty as haven’t charged them up for a while. The Libelium Li-Ion battery charger (step-down) unit also didn’t respond to backup USB plug-in power, so maybe this unit is dead too. Will try tomorrow in whatever little sunshine comes through the snow clouds… if the solar panel check LED still doesn’t light up, will be needing a new charger unit.

Stanford Univ TiO2/Si-nanotech batteries - the future of nanosat battery packs? From the following article in MIT Technology Review this week, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Cui suggests that new TiO2-encased sulfur-particulate batteries could boost battery life 5x, energy densities 2-3x, and boost cycles outside the 400-1200cycle range of Li-Ion batteries and closer to the 3000 cycle range required for electric car batteries. Although for now the tech is straining at the 1,000cycle pt, this is promising tech for commercialisation in the next 2-3yrs.
My particular interest is if this technology can help further battery life in nanosat power systems. The following Aero Eng Master’s thesis from Univ of Liege two years ago focused on investigating thermal issues in the successful OUFTI-1 nanosat notes in p.12: “Batteries are notorious sources of trouble in nano-satellites and have even caused missions to fail”.
Multiple reasons can be thought of, but the ones that come to mind for me are: low cycle lifetime (lead to loss of charging ability), poor power management and batt protection (overcharging that can lead to explosions/fire), mechanical deformation of batteries (see the picture in the thesis, to be remediated by mechanical plates), temperature performance below zero.
The article didn’t have anything to say about the last two items, but if a prototype battery with this material can perform well at low temperatures (ie. -35 deg C < t < 5 deg C), this may eliminate the current need for a separate heating system to keep batts at a high enough temperature (currently > 5 deg C) to work at all in the cold vacuum of space. Maybe some combination between thin film lithium ion battery design (for mechanical issue mitigation) and this new material (for the rest) could eliminate both problems and usher in a solution for longer-term nanosat missions.

Stanford Univ TiO2/Si-nanotech batteries - the future of nanosat battery packs? From the following article in MIT Technology Review this week, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Cui suggests that new TiO2-encased sulfur-particulate batteries could boost battery life 5x, energy densities 2-3x, and boost cycles outside the 400-1200cycle range of Li-Ion batteries and closer to the 3000 cycle range required for electric car batteries. Although for now the tech is straining at the 1,000cycle pt, this is promising tech for commercialisation in the next 2-3yrs.

My particular interest is if this technology can help further battery life in nanosat power systems. The following Aero Eng Master’s thesis from Univ of Liege two years ago focused on investigating thermal issues in the successful OUFTI-1 nanosat notes in p.12: “Batteries are notorious sources of trouble in nano-satellites and have even caused missions to fail”.

Multiple reasons can be thought of, but the ones that come to mind for me are: low cycle lifetime (lead to loss of charging ability), poor power management and batt protection (overcharging that can lead to explosions/fire), mechanical deformation of batteries (see the picture in the thesis, to be remediated by mechanical plates), temperature performance below zero.

The article didn’t have anything to say about the last two items, but if a prototype battery with this material can perform well at low temperatures (ie. -35 deg C < t < 5 deg C), this may eliminate the current need for a separate heating system to keep batts at a high enough temperature (currently > 5 deg C) to work at all in the cold vacuum of space. Maybe some combination between thin film lithium ion battery design (for mechanical issue mitigation) and this new material (for the rest) could eliminate both problems and usher in a solution for longer-term nanosat missions.

Last few days:
Have broken up the two boards into 3.3V and 5V, although I could have used a voltage regulator and put everything on the same voltage but keeping it simple. Now the 3.3V and the 5V sensors now have their own power rails they can sip from.
Looking into setting up an I2C &#8220;bus&#8221; essentially just meant setting up an I2C rail that I can connect back to the Mega SDA/SCL pins for processing. Need to update my code and check the output. Looks rather straightforward, assuming all the hardware address nos are clearly labelled in the documentation.
Decided against an Arduino-compatible Geiger counter module for now, the high voltage and the fact that the other items are not properly integrated mean it will have to be done at a later date. It will be needed in the final design though and I have the right supplier at least.
Next up is image and video capture with the new HD camera board, then save to the local microSD module vs external breakout&#8230; let&#8217;s see how much HD the microSDHC can take!
Note re solar panel and battery pack - tested for 24h straight and that battery is solid, no leaks, no burnout, no sensor LED flickers&#8230; just solid power output. Cool.

Last few days:

  • Have broken up the two boards into 3.3V and 5V, although I could have used a voltage regulator and put everything on the same voltage but keeping it simple. Now the 3.3V and the 5V sensors now have their own power rails they can sip from.
  • Looking into setting up an I2C “bus” essentially just meant setting up an I2C rail that I can connect back to the Mega SDA/SCL pins for processing. Need to update my code and check the output. Looks rather straightforward, assuming all the hardware address nos are clearly labelled in the documentation.
  • Decided against an Arduino-compatible Geiger counter module for now, the high voltage and the fact that the other items are not properly integrated mean it will have to be done at a later date. It will be needed in the final design though and I have the right supplier at least.
  • Next up is image and video capture with the new HD camera board, then save to the local microSD module vs external breakout… let’s see how much HD the microSDHC can take!
  • Note re solar panel and battery pack - tested for 24h straight and that battery is solid, no leaks, no burnout, no sensor LED flickers… just solid power output. Cool.

Quick mockup of a simple 2x arduino digital I/O with input, making one led flash or the other based on physical pressure input (in this case, my finger). First step towards something more complicated, but it’s easy to see how quickly the digital pins can get used up on the good old Arduino Uno, with little room for sensors or anything much else.

I think it’s the right time to graduate to the Mega… Apart from the wealth of potential pin connections, I’m really hoping the automatic software reset feature is more robust than on the Uno. Had issues even this evening when the board started playing up after uploading my third Arduino sketch to the board, and I got the dreaded “avrdude stk500_getsync(): not in sync” message where anything you upload will keep giving you the same message and not finish uploading.

I have my own personal hack that includes holding down the reset button while I remove and replace the physical connection (don’t ask how I came to this, but it works everytime). Unfortunately this solution is not ideal when the Arduino is floating at 300km altitude up in LEO, so hope that the programmatic way of pulling down the line and resetting the connection will work better. Or maybe the Uno board just wasn’t stable, or maybe I should have loaded a fresh firmware onto the chip. I don’t know, we’ll see.

Over the next few days will be getting back onto the XBees that are now soldered and have been patiently waiting around for their turn. Let’s see how far these things can actually communicate with each other. Stay tuned!

I&#8217;ve needed to take a break as the real world has crowded in and needed some taking care of&#8230; In the time I&#8217;ve been away we&#8217;ve had two huge news stories. One that the Chinese are planning a lunar mission for 2013, the other that JPL nailed their landing on Mars just yesterday. Unbelievable stories when you think about them, all the more that they are fully controlled from back home on Earth, which is about the most inefficient and dangerous setup you can imagine. As I&#8217;ve said before, kind of like controlling a jumbo jet landing into JFK from Central London. Maybe that&#8217;s something we&#8217;ll be able to do something about sometime soon.
How cool would it be if we could replicate the same with Open-source hardware kits and 3d printers? Yes sure, some people wouldn&#8217;t buy the concept but after trial and error and QA and sweat and tears and cash and luck thrown into the bottomless pit, why on earth not? Where is that Space Maker movement when you need one! Maybe I should start up a Space Maker Faire&#8230; anyone interested??

I’ve needed to take a break as the real world has crowded in and needed some taking care of… In the time I’ve been away we’ve had two huge news stories. One that the Chinese are planning a lunar mission for 2013, the other that JPL nailed their landing on Mars just yesterday. Unbelievable stories when you think about them, all the more that they are fully controlled from back home on Earth, which is about the most inefficient and dangerous setup you can imagine. As I’ve said before, kind of like controlling a jumbo jet landing into JFK from Central London. Maybe that’s something we’ll be able to do something about sometime soon.

How cool would it be if we could replicate the same with Open-source hardware kits and 3d printers? Yes sure, some people wouldn’t buy the concept but after trial and error and QA and sweat and tears and cash and luck thrown into the bottomless pit, why on earth not? Where is that Space Maker movement when you need one! Maybe I should start up a Space Maker Faire… anyone interested??

Draft PCB design... a work in progress Fritzing Advanced Arduino PCB Workshop Quick GPS and Barometer mockup

Working on a draft PCB design to be printed by the good Fritzing Fab people in Berlin. It’s been an eye-opener to use the Fritzing software properly: so much detail, so convenient and the learning curve is really not bad at all. The downside of the quick learning curve is you get frustrated when you dig into the detail: so it is fair to say I agree when it says on the tin that the software is still in “Beta”.

Otherwise, got a couple of components like the Locosys GPS unit and the barometer unit straight from Watterott, rather than buy in the US and pay just as much in P&P as for the units themselves. Ordered a couple of days ago, and hey presto DHL was on the doorstep!

The Fritzing advanced PCB workshop last week was great to put things in perspective, get my designs looked over and the opportunity to bounce ideas off like-minded people. My first serious contact with SMD components as well: the traditional through-hole 220-Ohm resistors look positively huge now in comparison to a resistor in a tiny 0805 package which is basically a 2mmx1mm box you can only manipulate with tweezers! Haven’t got round to soldering these but the time will come once the PCB is produced.

I do admit it is difficult to edit even the most basic of components in Fritzing (the old Parts Editor is buggy yes, but really not ideal) and when you switch between views sometimes you get these ghost connections breadboard-side that you have to double-click (?) to make go away. Or how you have to save the file to make rulers go away - that you’ve already deleted. Other things that caught me out today: if you copy-paste one component to create another identical item, it might come up in breadboard but not in the schematic/PCB views. Which is annoying when that piece is not available in the parts library and you’re trying to make do with “mystery parts” instead of the real thing. But hey, it works. After a few days at it (which includes soaking up the sun and street parties during the three-day Karneval of Cultures in Kreuzberg), I had a first draft… more than can be said about other PCB software I’ve tried!