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Thoughts on the future of Mars colonization via situ fabrication

Many projects are working on Three-D printing and in situ resource utilitization.  Maybe I don’t read enough, but the discussion and popularization seems to have not surpassed some obscurity on the central “what if we had this technology” from the perspective of fundamentals like the periodic table.

So, what if we had a technology that could produce arbitrary mechanical and electrical components and assemblies on scales ranging from nanometers to kilometers?  My own thoughts on the subject are described at Ultralight Spaceflight Fabrication.  Primary power is solar, secondary power is wind and perhaps geothermal.  Land a fabricator on Mars, and execute a program linked from Earth.  Land many fabricators on Mars and execute a more complex fabrication program.

From a picometer toolkit of mechanical, electronic, photonic and spintronic combinations of the elements found in the surface and atmosphere — a self sustaining village could be built in a few months.

This future technology builds a cubic meter of a rough mechanical regions in a couple seconds, or a cubic nanometer of logic, emitters or collectors.


As seen on FB@Sean Casey

This FAA Launch Report includes an article, “Special Report: “ITAR-Free” Satellites and Their Impact on the U.S. Launch Industry” 

Ultralight Spaceflight: field of dreams

This week @ULSF has been quieter than usual.  Looking out at our world, @PTScientists have a new blog post on rover wheels, and Alex @Csete is at the AMSAT UK Colloquium discussing Gnu Radio and OZ7SAT.


Reading about the ISS this week chills the bones.  Glad everyone is safe.

Work on the Sagittarius “plastic lifter” design study project continues in the solid modeling software.  The Constructive Solid Geometry package is presently being debugged. 

Additional work on future flight test locations has identified Floyd Bennet Field as an ideal candidate.  This location is an established R/C park, expansive, isolated, and surrounded by water.


Ultralight Spaceflight: The open shop principle

This week @ULSF we’ll have a look into open engineering since 1962.  That was the year in which Richard Hamming published his book, “Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers” complete with the most interesting appendix, “N+1: The Art of Computing for Scientists and Engineers”.  Hamming’s premise for “Numerical Methods” is “the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers”, following the standard “garbage in, garbage out” caveat for data processing.  In “N+1” Hamming develops the principle into “The open shop philosophy” via an epistemological “What do we know?”.  As in “What is the input?” and therefore what is the computation that describes the output.  Hamming wrote, “If we believe that the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers, then it follows that the [person] who is to get the insight must understand the computing”. “If he does not understand what is being done, he is very unlikely to derive much value from the computation”.

These principles extend into the more practical applications of computing that are common and familiar today.  What are the choices necessarily made by the programmer, and how were those choices implemented?  The open source software movement responds with, here is the code reflecting the choices made and available to inspection as well as alternative design and implementation.  For example in the realm of computer operating systems, is this code making the user vulnerable to resource or even identity theft.

Of course NASA has long been a leading member of the openness that has differentiated the US from most of the world throughout our brief history.  For example, the NASA Technical Reports Server contains millions of person-years of scientific and engineering knowledge and information (that statistic is simply my own guess at a conservative minimum bound).

NASA Nebula Montage

This week NASA Nebula pushed forward in the exemplary OpenStack initiative for cloud computing, an application computing infrastructure for NASA on par with that of Google or Amazon.

This week Alex @Csete has taken more steps forward into opening up Gnu Radio, detailing the decoding of the RS0ISS message board.

ISS Packet Downlink Decoding

The wide strong peek at 145.82 MHz is the ISS FM packet radio downlink in AX.25, shown in the neighborhood of VO-52.

I’d like to take this opportunity to admit that not since childhood have I been so close to reaching for an amateur radio operator’s license.  Apparently it’s pretty easy.  Alex is saturating my head enough that I’m starting to get some framework in mind to comprehend radio waves and their creation and propagation.  For me, RF is the weirdest area of Physics that I’m aware of.

Plus, the software defined radio is an FPGA application, like JOP that I’m also interested in for ULSF JFlight.  Although electrical engineers should feel free to jump in to help with Sagittarius.

Ultralight Spaceflight: Space Up DC?

This week @ULSF Alex @Csete submitted a fix to the Gnu Radio user interface, Gnu Radio Companion.  Digging into GRC and Gnu Radio will help us to establish a way for anyone to build a ground station and download the RF configuration for anyone’s mission tracking and communications.

I discovered another interesting part of the world in Modelica, an open source electro-mechanical dynamics modeling and simulation tool based on the Modelica Language and intended for graphical user interfaces.  It’s quite mature, with a substantial commercial following in Europe including Dassault Systèmes.  A model is defined and compiled into a simulation from the graphical user interface.

That code base has already given me some good pointers for my own work on Sagittarius.  A post entitled “Atoms and Molecules” describes the work in progress.

Mike @mrdoornbos and friends including Tiffany @astrogerly are working on Space Up DC this August 27th and 28th at the Space Policy Institute.  Follow @spaceupdc for more to come including registration this Tuesday.

Space is up, i.e., ad astra.

Ultralight Spaceflight: NOAA APT

This week @ULSF we have a cool NOAA APT catch by Alex @Csete.

North Pole from NOAA-18

This image from the North Pole was captured from Denmark.

NOAA-18 tracking over the North Pole via GPredict

This video shows the tracking sequence as illustrated by Alex’s GPredict software.

 “I used GNU Radio and the USRP to receive and Gpredict … to predict the AOS/LOS times and to know where to point the [hand held] antenna during the pass.  What I did was to record the received spectrum (250kHz as seen on the video from last week) in raw format. This data is pretty much a digital representation of what was on the air at that time at 137.x MHz +/- 125 kHz (At 137 MHz the Doppler shift will be less than +/- 5 kHz). The recorded data is about 1.7 GBytes for a 15 minute pass.

“After the pass, I replayed the recorded spectrum and ran it through the channel filter, FM demodulator, audio recorder and image decoder.   It still feels like listening live the only difference being the signals don’t come from the antenna but from a recorded file. It has the advantage that I can always restart if I make a mistake during decoding and it is also very useful for experimenting with the receiver chain.

“The idea with the DX was to try to receive signals when the sat is still far away (low  elevation). Due to the FAX-like transmission, the image is transmitted line by line and the  satellite always transmits what is right below it (sub satellite point/line). It’s like a camera always pointing down to Earth and only capturing one line at a time.   So, the lower the elevation angle, the farther away will the transmitted image come from. Obviously, there is a limit to how far away this can be because the satellites are in a low Earth orbit (between 800-900 km).

“Receiving while the satellite is still at low elevations can be very easy if there is clear line of sight or very difficult if there are trees in the way. I got mixed results this weekend:
The best accomplishment is probably the one from the North pole, though it’s rather noisy and difficult to recognize.”

Ultralight Spaceflight: Happy Fourth of July USA!

This week @ULSF we’ll meet the original, broad definition of “ULSF” as looking out at the world more than looking into our own group.  Following from @ULSF we see @Odyssey_Moon wishing everyone in the US a Happy Fourth.  @ClydeSpace sees young James Tiberius coming up through the classic apprenticeship.  And @AstroTek shares @MilesOBrien always loves a good lander flight test.  @NASA_Wallops wishes us a safe Independence Day with a historical note that on this day in 1945 they launched the first Tiamat research rocket.  As always, @AronSora is tweeting a universe of space ideas.

NOAA 18 northbound 59W at 04 Jul 2010 12:38:15 GMT on 137.10MHz, MCIR enhancement, Normal projection, Channel A: 1 (visible), Channel B: 4 (thermal infrared)

Alex @Csete has been pointing Gnu Radio + the USRP at NOAA satellites this week, great articles at OZ9AEC.

Lockheed XFV-1

For my own part, I’m still working on this
and learning OpenGL — instruments of study and work.  I’m happy to be gaining traction with OpenGL and making some (albeit minor) progress on the space
plane design study project
that all of this effort is primarily
pointed at.  This week I opened “elme”, electro-mechanical simulation
software project with “Prop”.  This is (the beginning of)
a variable pitch propeller using a helicopter style control plane for
vectored thrust.  A pair of these counter rotating will be used for atmospheric flight control, but reminds me of a very similar configuration used for thrust in the
Lockheed XFV-1 project.  My grandfather worked on the propeller pitch control gear set for this project.  Makes me  warm and fuzzy to find a variable pitch propeller in the position of a favored solution.

Ultralight Spaceflight: the gang’s all here

This week @ULSF, Alex has GStreamer performing, Tobias received some new gear, and Joshua’s Moon 2.0 project is reaching critical mass.

Alex: “Picture in picture compositing in gstreamer with examples ranging from simple concepts to the more complex “Live from Pluto” video wall: http://www.oz9aec.net/index.php/gstreamer/347-more-gstreamer-tips-picture-in-picture-compositing  Simple time-lapse videos with gstreamer and ffmpeg: http://www.oz9aec.net/index.php/gstreamer/346-simple-time-lapse-video-with-gtreamer-and-ffmpeg Note the image quality – it was recorded using a $100 QuickCam Vision Pro 9000 UVC webcam from Logitech. I can’t wait to try the new HD Webcam Series from Logitech coming out in a few months.”

Tobias: ” I got last week all the stuff I’ve ordered, my arduino, some servos, a
500mW green laser diode, …., ….  Arduino programming seems simple, and since some little test programms worked
right away (on both, my mac and my dell),  I’m in a quite positive
Headed yesterday to San Diego, CA, where I’ll be for the next two weeks.
I’m here for training with Broadcast Microwave Systems, since we
(the company I’m working for) have some 18″, 34″ and a 72″ inch auto-tracker systems for our UAV’s.  Anyone close to SanDiego?”

The Moon 2.0 team now has twenty three members and two dedicated blogs.  The team is primarily focused on building femto satellites and launchers for LEO.

Ultralight Spaceflight: math & movies

Seems like our theme this week @ULSF is movies and math.  That is, Alex @Csete has been “learning gstreamer with the purpose of encoding one or more video streams and muxing them together into a single MPEG-TS transport stream”.  Alex is collecting useful shortcuts into http://wiki.oz9aec.net/index.php/Gstreamer_Cheatsheet

On the math front, I found a great little book “Understanding Thermodynamics” by H.C. Van Ness.  Van Ness develops an experiential introduction to the subject and contrasts it momentarily to the usual abstract approach.  Made me think.  Subjects in the abstract can be a real headache, and it’s always important to feed the brain with the practical elements either through more practical studies or direct experimentation or modeling.  It’s too easy to plow through math like a school boy and miss the greatest value the time spent in study has to offer.  Making good cognitive structures feeds the brain what it needs when it needs it.  So following good tangents is building better networks.

I think that such an idea is more useful than nothing, like eat your broccoli.

Warning.  Might not be good for your GPA, however.  That’s not a concern of mine, so accommodating that kind of objective is left as an exercise….  Maybe, do your homework first and then manage a stack of books next to your bed in all the tangential areas of interest.

If you’re reading this, then you might enjoy H.C. Van Ness’ little book.  Even if you know the subject, it’s fun.  I’d be interested in hearing other opinions.

On another front, yet another interesting tweet by @AronSora linked to Protecting the Lunar Farside.  In a nutshell, Protecting the Lunar Farside in the electromagnetic spectrum in favor of
future radio telescope or phased array detectors.  Leave E-M L2 Alone!  The
Protected Antipode Circle (PAC) is defined as a circular piece of the
Lunar Surface 1820
kilometers in diameter, centered around the antipode on the farside and
spanning an angle of 30 degrees in longitude and latitude from the antipode.

Protecting the Lunar Farside

Always interested in learning and sharing Lunar conservation and management concepts.

Ultralight Spaceflight: Like Legos?

photos-photo16739We’ve discovered a great way to build new things: Shapeways.  Create new LEGO parts, or anything.  They have interesting Tutorials and Videos.  Takes a while to get the hang of their world, it’s a bit obscure but generally worthwhile.  Probably the easiest way to get started building would be using Google SketchUp, but there’s lots of free and commercial software for bending your head around CAD.


Alex Csete reports news from the embedded electronics world of pluggable bricks, the BeagleBoard XM now has a pin head connector for camera input.  “Past versions omitted the camera input connector to save space and were thus limited to USB cameras, which is why I went with the Gumstix Overo instead”. 

Joshua Tristancho is working on the legal framework for performing rocket launches in Spain, and heading out to conferences.  There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in Barcelona.

Ultralight Spaceflight: world needs comms

This week @ULSF work proceeds around the world, while Alex Csete @csete is engaging Ultra Light Space Comms #ULSC.Embedded Video Processing and Radio Unit

Alex is a physicist by training, and lists his Google Profile Super Power as “ANSI C”.  ESA’s ATV and Gaia spacecraft systems seem to agree.  Like all @ULSF principals, Alex chases results with a careful liss between obsession and discipline.   A writer writes, a painter paints, and engineers build new systems.

The ULSC Embedded Video Processing and Radio Unit project takes aim at the telemetry and telecommand (TM/TC) part of our future space craft, incorporating HD video and tracking and ranging.

In this diagram, above, the high bandwidth video subsystem is emphasized in its proximity to the TM/TC coders and the RF transponder.

Ultralight Spaceflight: working details

This past week @ULSF we’ve been quietly working.  Josh (@PicoRover) has been working on N and X Prize propulsion questions, and I’ve been working mostly on 3D graphics, learning OpenGL, for the development of a shape in computational mesh format for aerodynamic analysis.

You may recall that my current course of study is in a space plane concept for conventional take off and landing.  The shapes I’m looking into are in the flying wing neighborhood.

I was very happy a couple weeks ago to learn about the Sears-Haack body, Whitcomb’s Area Rule, a mathematical model for minimizing aerodynamic wave drag.  Flight through the atmosphere encounters the medium in a wave phenomenon, not unlike a boat producing a wave from its bow.  Traveling at less than the speed of sound, wave drag is not very significant.  However at the speed of sound — which decreases with altitude — the barrier is the onset of critical wave drag.

Swept wings are an alternative approach to minimizing wave drag, through the oblique redistribution of pressure across the airfoil.  As far as I understand it, sweeping the wing is reducing its efficiency in order to reduce its drag.  From this perspective, I think Burt Rutan’s later designs take the approach of not sweeping in favor of a Sears-Haack-Whitcomb approach.