Space Technology – #36

Space requires new technologies. Much like the space race of the 1950s, engineers are feverishly working to gain a competitive advantage. Mark Lombardi sits down to explore rad hardening, thermal vacuum chambers, space mining, CubeSats, and battery technology.

Hosted by Daniel Bogdanoff and Mike Hoffman, EEs Talk Tech is a twice-monthly engineering podcast discussing tech trends and industry news from an electrical engineer’s perspective.

Space requires new technologies. Much like the space race of the 1950s, engineers are feverishly working to gain a competitive advantage. Mark Lombardi sits down to explore rad hardening, thermal vacuum chambers, space mining, CubeSats, and battery technology.

 

Mark Lombardi – 25 years at HP/Agilent/Keysight. He worked for RT logic for a few years, where he got into space.

2:00 – Your odds of survival getting to space are better than getting to the top of Everest.

2:30 – Space mining from the Asteroid belt has the potential to create the worlds first trillionaire.

3:20 – We need to establish manufacturing in space. For example, what if you manufactured satellites on the moon instead of on earth?

4:00 – The main driver is price-per-pound

6:10 – The Space Force – it sounds a little silly at first but is very reasonable when you take a closer look.

7:45 – How do you test objects bound for space?

8:30 – Space is transitioning from government-only to commercial. Businesses are starting to explore how to add value to society and make a profit from space.

9:15 – Phased arrays, reusable rockets, LEO satellites are all changing space technology.

10:00 – Low earth orbit satellites have much lower delay. Geosynchronous satellites have a 250 ms propagation delay.

This has interesting implications for 5G – that 250 ms latency is too long for 5G requirements. So, LEO satellites are what will be used.

12:00 – Using LEO satellites will be deployed in force instead of as singles, as mentioned in the Weather Cubesat podcast.

13:45 – Ghana launched their own satellite, which is a huge step. They eventually won’t be dependent on others for their space access. And, they can do specialized things for reasonable prices.

15:00 – Announcements – we haven’t podcasted in a long time, sorry! We are switching to 1x per month

16:45 – Radiation hardening for electronics, sometimes called electronics hardening. Historically, you had to plan for a long life in a satellite. Now, you don’t have to.

17:30 – It’s also hard to get a rad hardened cutting-edge technology.

18:00 – LEO satellites get less radiation, so it’s less of a problem. And, since they are cheaper, you can build in an expected mortality rate.

19:00 – You can also rev hardware faster, allowing you to use newer technology. Think about imagers, the technology has moved a long way in seven years.

19:55 – Space is cold. Space is a vacuum. So, to test our gear you have to reproduce that on earth. To do that, we use special chambers.

20:50 – Thermal vacuum chambers (T vac) are used to test space objects. Automotive parts are actually very resilient to temperature changes and can be leveraged into space designs.

21:30 – What happens to electronics in space? The vacuum is a bigger challenge than the temperature changes.

23:30 – To get more bandwidth, we have to increase frequency. This leads to attenuation in the air and in cables. Some designers are switching to waveguides.

25:00 – With modular test equipment, you could potentially have test gear that can survive in space.

27:00 – What is the current and projected size of the space industry?

28:10 – What batteries are used in space? What factors into battery decisions? – Lithium ion batteries work well in space, and are used when we can charge them with solar energy.

28:40 – Deep space exploration uses all sorts of obscure battery technology.

29:10 – Electronic propulsion

30:05 – Over 150V, things get interesting. The breakdown voltage is different in space than it is on earth. So, designers have to be very careful.

Weather CubeSats – #30

We have surprisingly little knowledge of weather. When specifically does a cloud rain? How do these clouds form? We don’t have good answers to these questions. Getting those answers is an electrical engineering problem – one that a handful of professors and NASA are solving with CubeSats.

Historically, we’ve used large satellites and ground-based systems to track weather patterns, but CubeSat arrays are becoming a viable option. In this episode, Daniel Bogdanoff sits down with the leading researchers in this area to hear about the challenges and advancements being made in this area.

We have surprisingly little knowledge of weather. When specifically does a cloud rain? How do these clouds form? We don’t have good answers to these questions. Getting those answers is an electrical engineering problem – one that a handful of professors and NASA are solving with CubeSats.

Historically, we’ve used large satellites and ground-based systems to track weather patterns, but CubeSat arrays are becoming a viable option. In this episode, Daniel Bogdanoff sits down with the leading researchers in this area to hear about the challenges and advancements being made in this area.

Interviewees:

Charles Norton – JPL Engineering and Science Directorate POC
Joel T Johnson – ECE Department Chair and Professor at The Ohio State University
Christopher Ball – Research Scientist at The Ohio State University
Dr. V. Chandrasekar (Chandra) – ECE Professor at Colorado State University
Eva Peral – Radar Digital Systems Group Supervisor at JPL

Agenda

Intro

Space is changing. Big, expensive satellites used to be our only option. But, as you’ve probably heard on this podcast, when it comes to technology the world is always shrinking – and satellites are no exception. And that’s what we’re exploring today, specifically, the way cubesats (miniature satellites) are revolutionizing the way we look at earth’s weather.

Hi, my name is Daniel Bogdanoff, and welcome to EEs Talk Tech. In our last episode, I brought you all along with me to Wallops flight facility in Virginia for a rocket launch. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and I wanted to cover more than was reasonable for a single episode. So today, we’re blending the style of last episode and our standard interview-style podcast. I sat down with some EE professors from Ohio State University and Colorado State University to talk about their cube sat projects – all of which monitor weather using radiometers or radar and are pretty high tech.

I also apologize in advance for the background noise during the interviews, I’ve done the best I can to minimize the noise and voiceover parts I feel are hard to hear. I’ve also used clips from their NASA TV presentations wherever possible.

Let’s get started, and hear a little bit about the advantages of CubeSats from Charles Norton.

Advantages of CubeSats [1:05]

Cubesats are nice not just because they’re cheaper and smaller. Thanks to the miniaturization of new technologies in both their physical size and their power consumption, we can deploy more systems, more rapidly, and at a lower cost. They also require smaller teams to develop and operate, and can even have higher measurement accuracy than existing assets.

CubeRRT [3:51]

At its core, CubeRRT is all about making radiometry measurements better by processing out man made emissions – leaving only the earth’s natural emissions.

From NASA: “Microwave radiometers provide important data for Earth science investigations, such as soil moisture, atmospheric water vapor, sea surface temperature and sea surface winds. Man-made radiofrequency interference (RFI) reduces the accuracy of microwave radiometer data, thus the CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation (CubeRRT) mission demonstrates technologies to detect and remove these unwanted RFI signals. Successful completion of the CubeRRT mission demonstrates that RFI processing is feasible in space, high volumes of data may be processed aboard a satellite, and that future satellite-based radiometers may utilize RFI mitigation.”

TEMPEST-D [8:00]

Instead of having a big satellite sitting in geosynchronous orbit, an array of CubeSats can be put in orbit such that they each pass over the same spot at set intervals. With some careful calibration, differences in the measurement equipment gets normalized out and they get good weather data.

From JPL: “TEMPEST-D is a technology demonstration mission to enable millimeter wave radiometer technologies on a low-cost, short development schedule. The mission … reduces the risk, cost, and development duration for a future TEMPEST mission, which would provide the first ever temporal observations of cloud and precipitation processes on a global scale.  For TEMPEST-D, JPL developed a mm-wave radiometer payload that operates at five channels from 89 to 182 GHz and fits in a 4U volume within the 6U CubeSat.”

RainCube [11:47] & the Origami Antenna

From JPL: “RainCube (Radar in a CubeSat) is a technology demonstration mission to enable Ka-band precipitation radar technologies on a low-cost, quick-turnaround platform. RainCube developed a 35.75 GHz radar payload to operate within the 6U CubeSat form factor. This mission will validate a new architecture for Ka-band radars and an ultra-compact lightweight deployable Ka-band antenna in a space environment to raise the technology readiness level (TRL) of the radar and antenna from 4 to 7 within the three year life of the program. RainCube will also demonstrate the feasibility of a radar payload on a CubeSat platform.”

Foldable Antenna [12:20]

1.5U volume, Ka-band 35.75 GHz RADAR antenna.

Why Measure Weather from Space? [15:00]

These are just a few of the cubesat projects that went up on the OA9 rocket launch. To hear more about that, check out EEs Talk Tech electrical engineering podcast episode #29 – The Long Road to Space.

 

Battlebots 2018 & the Hardcore Robotics Team – #27

“I tend to not turn Tombstone on outside of the arena – it scares the crap out of me.” – Ray Billings, Hardcore Robotics team captain. We sit down with BattleBots’ resident bad boy to talk about the engineering behind the world’s meanest fighting robots. We also talk robot carnage. Because we know you’re really here for robot carnage.

“I tend to not turn Tombstone on outside of the arena. It scares the crap out of me…” – Ray Billings, Hardcore Robotics team captain. We sit down with BattleBots’ resident bad boy to talk about the engineering behind the world’s meanest fighting robots. We also talk robot carnage. Because we know you’re really here for robot carnage.

Agenda:

00:03 Ray Billings leads the Hardcore Robotics Battlebots team, and is the “resident villain” on Battlebots.

00:40 Mike went to high school with Ray’s son

01:15 Ray’s robot, “Tombstone” is ranked #1 on the Battlebots circuit. Highlights here.

1:34 The winner trophy for Battlebots is a giant nut.

2:00 Ray doesn’t turn on the robot very often outside of the arena

2:35 Ray’s carnage story: he bent a 1” thick titanium plate

3:20 You have to see combat robots live to get the full experience

4:10 The first match of Battlebots 2018 should be one of the most epic Battlebots fights of all time

4:30 Ray has done over 1,000 combat robot matches in 17 years

5:00 How Ray got into Battlebots

6:25 The main robot is called an offset horizontal spinner. It spins a 70-75 lb bar at 2500 rpm.

7:40 The body is 4130 choromoly tubing. The drive motors were intended for an electric wheelchair, and the weapons motor is from an electric golf cart.

8:20 Normal electrical motors are not designed to work for combat robots. Ray significantly stresses the motors.

8:50 The weapon motor was designed to be used at 48V 300A, but Ray uses it at 60V and 1100A (at spinup). This would overheat and destroy the motor, so it shouldn’t be done long-term.

9:40 – 70-80kW at spinup, and no start capacitor. He just uses a big marine relay.

10:00 Ray’s robot has 1 second to be lethal

10:30 If there’s a motor-stall potential mid match, Ray will turn off the motor to save batteries/electronics

11:00 What’s the weak point of Ray’s robot? One match, the weapon bar snapped in half.

11:40 Ray uses tool-grade steel, so it won’t bend, it’ll just snap.

12:40 The shock loads can break the case. The weapon motor looks like it’s rigidly mounted, but because it’s on a titanium plate it has some shock absorber. There’s also a clutch system in the sprocket to help offset shock.

13:40 Ray’s robot has to take all of the force that the opponent’s robots do (equal and opposite), but if it’s coming in a direction you want vs. one you don’t want you can design-in protection.

14:40 What test challenges were faced during assembly and design?

It’s been highly iterated. There are no shortcuts for designing combat robots. You have to see where something breaks, then adjust.

15:45 When Ray started in 2004, his robot was just a “middle of the pack” robot. With years of iteration, it’s now a class-dominant robot.

16:45 Ray spins up the robot at least once before a competition. It’ll pick up debris from the ground and throw it around.

17:50 Battery technology and batteries for combat robots: Originally they used lead acid batteries for their current ability. Now, almost everyone uses Lithium chemistry. The sport is about power-to-weight ratio, so the lighter batteries have given people much more flexibility.

19:00 Why aren’t there gas powered combat robots? There are some that have flamethrowers, and there are a couple gas powered ones. However, they aren’t as dependable.

20:15 Ray has wrecked arenas. The arena rails are 1/2” steel, and Ray can cut a soda-can sized hole in them. He’s wrecked panels and ceiling lights.

21:20 Combat robot communication systems: today everything runs on 2.4 GHz digitally encoded systems. They often use RC plane controls because they are highly customizable and there are a lot of available channels.

22:00 Drive systems: the wheels & motors come together. They use a hard foam in the tires so you can’t get a flat.

22:45 Centrifugal force – not a huge problem because the blade spins in-plane. But, when he gets bumped up the blade fights gravity before it can self-right.

24:40 The rest of the Hardcore Robotics team is three people.. The team is Ray, his son (Justin), and his friend Rick. Rick used to run his own team, but has more fun fabricating and building robots than he does driving them.

25:30 There will be 6 fights/hour, and the show will be on the Discovery channel and the science channel premiering May 11th.

26:15 The first fight got leaked in some promo footage, Tombstone vs. Minotaur.

26:35 Would Ray rather fight a good robot or a bad one? Ray says “anyone.”

Battlebots 2018 (season 3) will have “fight card” fights, then a playoff of the top 16 robots.

27:50 A given frame only lasts an event or two before needing to be replaced. This many fights is really hard on the robot.

29:20 Combat robot kits are a great way to get into the sport, especially ant-weight and beetle weight kits.

30:00 Stupid questions

31:15 Ray wants to try a new hammer robot, a full-shell spinner, and a vertical spinner.

32:40 Support Ray by getting Hardcore Robotics gear from battlebots.com and the toys from Target, Amazon, hexbugs, etc.

33:15 Ray is also an engineer at Intel.