I’m loving all the spaceflight activity happening this summer during our brief opportunity every two years to send missions to Mars. It’s exciting to see spacecraft finally get off the ground and on their way to do great science, and reassuring to know that at least some aspects of the pre-2020 world continue more or less as normal now. I know there are similarly ambitious and collaborative projects happening with the intent of improving the Earth, but I’m either missing out on them entirely due to my field of work or perhaps they just aren’t talked about as much. The ITER reactor, discussed briefly below, is one such project; if you can think of others, I’d love to hear of them.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~16% of opens) was a super handy web app for generating dieline templates for a variety of folded paper/cardboard packaging styles.
Planning & Strategy.
- A long and detailed article on how (and why) DARPA works. Scouring an entire industry for research opportunities sounds exciting and daunting, and now I understand why finding great program managers is so critical to their success. I was also shocked to learn that the entire agency is about 220 people.
- A Twitter thread history of the handles that Apple has designed into Macs. Even if they won’t be used all (or even much of) the time, I like handles that look nice and make a product feel more approachable.
- From the #lunchtime-legos channel in The Prepared’s paid subscriber Slack, a piece on using Lego brick interface panels as a tool for learning the basics of interface design.
Making & Manufacturing.
- A new “non-cuttable material,” Proteus, that’s made of ceramic spheres inside an aluminum shell. Once the shell is broken, the geometry and location of the ceramic spheres inside cause cutting tools to vibrate and break. I would’ve liked to see a comparison with a plate of mild steel in the video, but the idea is neat nonetheless. The real question is, what will a bike lock made with Proteus cost?
- Hot wire foam cutting with a robot is the perfect robotic application to me: It has plenty of accuracy to hold a complex curve in the wire and keep it there during the low-load cutting. And, more importantly, this seems cheaper than trying to get a similar result with any other machine.
- A new video from Festo on their Supramotion concept, which utilizes superconductors to enable contact-free handling of parts. I don’t know of many companies that demonstrate their industrial products or research better than Festo; they also make some very cool robotic birds.
- From the aptly named “Useless Mod,” a video about creating a clear enclosure for AirPods. This is a great display of casting techniques, and I love the use of toothpicks as runners for the resin.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- A good Twitter thread about fixing a bug in a nuclear weapon detection system. From it, I learned about Starfire Optical Range, an Air Force installation in New Mexico that is attempting to use adaptive optics to remove the effects of scintillation on giant lasers.
- SpaceX made a 150 m hop with a Starship prototype last week. The last filmed hop they made in Texas was almost a year ago, with a shorter trashcan.
- Planes are being cleaned more now. This is good! Some airlines are sanitizing more than others, though: “United Airlines wrote in an email that the airline was deploying electrostatic spraying before ‘most flights.’”
Distribution & Logistics.
- I recently learned about the ITER fusion reactor, a $65+ billion project being built with contributions from over 35 countries. The project website is nice, with lots of interesting and detailed posts, but this video really helps to get some perspective on the massive scale of the project.
- I love this brief NYTimes article on the spacecraft that are heading to Mars this summer, which calls out important features of each with great graphics. There’s only so much a low-fidelity graphic of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Perseverance rover can cover, though; it’s carrying an incredible number of experiments and hardware on board, including a complex robotic subsystem for storing and caching soil samples in super-clean vials. It also carries samples of future spacesuit material to test out how they handle the Mars environment, and a Mars meteor as a calibration target.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- As everyone knows by now, a massive explosion occurred in Beirut last week, the result of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port. The ship that brought it there in 2013 was impounded, emptied and eventually sank nearby. It’s easy, obvious, and appropriate to blame officials for not dealing with the material sooner, but in most organizations protocols are only written for common events. If dangerous materials are impounded rarely or never, it’s not all that shocking that no one knew what to do when they showed up. Related, see this fluid analysis of the explosion.
- Crew Dragon returned from orbit last weekend but had to delay the opening of the capsule thanks to fears of toxic fumes being present. This occasion is a good reminder of how harmful fuels can be: The type used for Crew Dragon’s thrusters, called hypergolic fuels, are made of fuel and oxidizer that spontaneously ignite upon contact with each other. This is great for lighting rocket engines reliably and easy ground storage, but unfortunately both components are highly toxic.
- A fascinating slow motion video of a Proton M rocket explosion from 2013, and the terrible events that occur when sensors that control the pointing of the rocket are installed incorrectly.
- JPL announced a program called ASTHROS that intends to use a balloon the size of a football field to fly a 2.5 m diameter telescope to the stratosphere. Doing something ambitious with a balloon costs way less than flying on a rocket, so you can take more risk and fly components (in this case to measure the motion and speed of gas around new stars) that haven’t flown before.
- Use Window swap to get a view of other windows around the world.
- You should know some knots, and this website (which Spencer has linked to before, but hey - it’s awesome) of Animated Knots will walk you through step-by-step. Try the Bowline, Clove Hitch and Figure Eight Knot to start; their iOS app is also great.