Friday, September 24, 2010

NearSys UltraLight Flight Computer

The first NearSys flight computer is now ready for purchase. The flight computer is programmed in BASIC and centered around the PICAXE-28X. The UltraLight has four analog channels, three digtal channels, two servo ports, and two camera ports. This means the UltraLight can record the analog values of four sensors, operate three digital devices including Geiger counters, control two servos, and operate two cameras. The flight computer has 32k of memory for storing mission data.

After building the UltraLight kit, you just ned to plug in a GPS receiver to be ready for flight. The flight computer contains a transmitter, TinyTrak based TNC, and a SMA antenna connector (the kit includes the cable and wire to make an antenna).

The UltraLight also includes a control panel that mounts to the near spacecraft airframe. The control panel permits the flight computer to be programmed without opening the airframe. The control panel has three power switches for main power, servo power, and audio beacon. The third switch powers up the audio beacon. the 90n dB piezo buzzer helps recovery crews locate the near spacecraft when it lands in tall grass of trees. Using a seperate battery pack for the servos insures that a bad servo can't ruin the science mission. The control panel also includes a Commit Pin that allows you to power up the near spacecraft long before launch without wasting memory recording data on the ground.

Additional information will appear on the NearSys website shortly (

Monday, September 20, 2010

Astrophotogaphy with a Digital Camera

I've been using a FinePix S7000 to make astronomic images from Topeka. Most of my images are of Jupiter and its four major satellites for an astronomy/physics lab I'd like to write (I hope to create an activity book of astronomy with this and other lab exercises). Last night, after photographing Jupiter, I used my planetarium program to identify the satellites in the image. I found out that the planet Uranus was just above Jupiter and upon checking my image, i realize I recorded the planet.

The picture was five seconds long with a zoom of six power (optical zoom, not digital). I'll keep photographing the planets to monitor the motions between them and the fixed stars.