How to Solder Like a Pro

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Soldering isn’t as easy as it may look, but with a little practice you too can solder like a pro. Here are some helpful tips to creating professional grade projects:

  1. If your soldering iron isn’t working properly, try cleaning the tip. The residue from solder and dirt that accumulates on the tip over time make it difficult for the soldering iron to heat properly and reduces the heat applied to the solder.

  2. Choose a soldering iron with a range of at least 40 to 60 watts. You can still solder with a lower wattage, but a higher wattage will make the job easier.

  3. Your work area should be clean and properly lit. Clutter will only get in the way of your projects and in the case of precision soldering, especially with small objects you will need to see what you are working on.

  4. Make sure you familiarize yourself with all the tools and their purposes. This will make the job a lot easier when you need to solve a problem and are looking for the best tool for the job.

  5. Always clean the circuit board you are working on thoroughly. If there is debri on the your circuit board the solder won’t adhere effectively and the finished project won’t work as it should.

  6. Make sure that both the components and the board are secure when you are working on your project. If either are loose the soldering won’t be secure when you finish.

  7. When you are soldering several components to a circuit board, keep them separate and only solder one at a time so you don’t wind up with any mistakes.

Safety

It is very important to follow these safety rules when soldering:

  1. Make sure your work area is properly lit.

  2. It is important to work in a well ventilated area.

  3. Return the soldering iron to its stand when not in use.

  4. Always wear safety glasses.

  5. Never keep flammable substances near your work area.

  6. Never touch the tip of the soldering iron, always hold it by the handle.

  7. Do not eat or drink while soldering.

  8. Wash your hands thoroughly after soldering.

Start an Affordable High School Space Program

Today an increasing number of people are conducting their own space exploration projects. The main reason behind this increase in space exploration is that it no longer costs billions of dollars to achieve. Another reason is that exploring space no longer takes several years in development time and expertise. These two major factors are making space exploration available to an increasing number of scientists, engineers, hobbyists and students throughout the world.

With these restrictions no longer important, schools and companies are able to carry out experiments in space, giving them the ability to contribute to the field of science and technology through their own experiments. Today people from every background in academics and business are continuously filling the pool with skills, knowledge and resources to advance the field of space exploration.

High school space exploration program

At Valley Christian High School, located in San Jose, California they have a program that allows students to design and deploy complex science experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for 30 days. The program is currently on its fourth year, and they are helping 10 other schools conduct their own experiments in space. The program has made it possible for the students to design and launch a CubeSat from the ISS this year and garner them the attention of different institutions and organizations. From the start of the program, NASA engineers have actually been very impressed by the space experiments conducted by the high school students.

The first experiment

The student’s first experiment involved growing plants in outer space. Although this may seem like a simple start to the program, people need to keep in mind that the environment and conditions in outer space are extremely different than those on earth. Some of the challenges included watering the plants as well as collecting data. Students solved the problem of watering the plants by building a box 4x4x6 inches, inside which they placed a microcomputer, some lights and an incubator. They programmed the microcomputer to figure out when the plants needed watering. The students were able to water the plants using a small IV bag like the ones used in hospitals. The microcomputer controlled the valve to let water out of the bag when needed, it was also responsible for gathering the data such as taking pictures as well as measuring temperature and humidity.

The succeeding experiments involved participation and partnerships with other schools. During the second year of the program, three other schools participated in biological experiments. During the third year of the program seven other schools participated in the program. The fourth year of the program 10 other schools were involved in the program to carry out experiments in space. The program even attracted participants from Finland and the state of Hawaii. The program that started in San Jose is now attracting schools from around the world.

One of the most notable experiments hadn’t even been attempted by NASA yet, it involved plating stainless steel rods with gold and bronze. The program has become such a success that teachers are considering the idea of offering junior high students the opportunity to get involved. As it gains in momentum, the program has the ability to reach more students in other schools and give them the chance to attempt interesting experiments. This collaboration would only serve to fuel the interest and result in more innovations over time.

Challenges and benefits

The program is offered as a voluntary, after school activity. The students’ grades aren’t affected by the program so this itself makes it a challenge to keep them interested in and returning to the program on their own time.  It is a team effort, making it increasingly important to keep the students interested. One major advantage to being involved in the program is the students’ ability to add the experiments to their resumes when they apply for college. One student was able to receive a four-year full scholarship to MIT as a result of their involvement in the space program.

The high school students participating aren’t just learning about engineering and science, they are also learning how to work as a team in the areas of finance, scheduling and PR. Each student is given their own individual tasks such as handling payload and experiments of the project, while others deal with the PR and getting the information to the school newspaper as well as the local media.

The space project doesn’t only teach students about space exploration but also teaches them the essential value of working as a team. It also teaches them about the valuable tasks outside the area of space to better prepare them for the challenges of life.

Not only are the students getting a chance to do some groundbreaking work in the field of space exploration which they can carry with them, they are also contributing to the field of science and technology and learning some valuable tools that will help them navigate through their future.

How Solar Panels Work

They have been around for years. They can be seen on homes, on top of road signs and light posts offering a inexpensive means for powering objects. They are solar panels that harness the sun’s natural energy and convert it into electricity. But how do they work?

Solar panels harness the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity by using photovoltaic (PV) cells. These cells can power everything from small devices like a calculator, to a whole house. The cells have several components, starting with the ones we are all aware of and see everyday, two layers of silicon. The layers of silicon make up the majority of the cell and the plane where they meet is where most of the critical process takes place.

The cell also has metal strips running through it that conduct the flow of electricity which the cell produces, also known as electrons. Electrons flow into the object being powered and then back out of it and return to the cell through the cell’s metal backing to close the loop. The cell also contains an anti-reflective coating, which ensures that the photons, or particles of sunlight, are absorbed by the silicon layers and not reflected away.

Silicon Layers

Silicon is a poor conductor of electricity, even though it is a strong and stable building material for PV cells. To account for silicon’s poor conductive properties, manufacturers upgrade, or “dope”, the cell’s two silicon layers with trace amounts of additives, usually phosphorus and boron. The top layer is infused with phosphorus and contains more electrons, or negatively charged particles, than the pure silicon does. The bottom layer is infused with boron, contains fewer electrons. These infusions are critical to the process.

Electric Field

To generate electricity, you first need to establish an electric field. Similar to a magnetic field where the opposite poles of two magnets attract to each other, the positive and negative charges in an electric field do the same. This reaction to the electric field is first created in the cell when the two different silicon layers are attached to each other. The added electrons in the phosphorus-doped top layer naturally move into the boron-doped bottom layer in a fraction of a second and only close to where the two layers meet. When the bottom layer has gained extra electrons, it becomes negatively charged at the same time the top layer has gained a positive charge. The cell is now ready to accept the sun’s photons.

The Sun’s Rays

When sunlight hits the cell, the photons begin to separate the electrons in both silicon layers. These active electrons dart around each layer but don’t create electricity until they are able to reach the electric field at the junction of the two silicon layers. This is one of the reasons that solar cells are still relatively inefficient compared to fossil fuels and only account for a fraction of the energy used in the U.S. The electric field pushes the electrons that do reach the junction toward the top silicon layer. This process essentially catapults the electrons out of the cell to the metal conductor strips, generating electricity.

Powering a Satellite

A satellite produces its own power by generating electricity from sunlight that is attracted by the solar panels. Batteries are used to store the energy, so the satellite can continue to work when the Sun is eclipsed or too far away to reach the panels. An example of this would be a mission to visit a comet or a distant planet. The more light that hits a cell, the more electricity it produces. This is why a satellite is usually designed with solar panels that can always be pointed at the Sun while the rest of the body moves.

 

The S4 Flight Board

The flight board, which is considered the backbone of the entire S4 payload, is a Printed Circuit Board (PCB). The flight board provides the foundation that keeps all the components firmly in place. It also provides a route for the power and information to travel between the components. This is achieved through a system of wires, called ‘traces’, that are printed directly on the board. The flight board is the only component in the S4 Payload that is not off the shelf, but rather designed for the projects they are needed for.

The base payload components attached to the flight board include:

Arduino

The Arduino is the main microprocessor attached to the flight board. It is responsible for the data collection from the various components, formatting that data and sending it to the WiFi and SD card devices for the transmission and storage. All of the code that operates the payload will be handled by the Arduino.

Wi-Fly Chip

The Wi-Fly chip allows the real time communication between the payload and the base station, using 802.11g wireless network protocol. This is the same type of wireless communication that is used in your home or classroom to provide internet access to your computer and smartphone. The chip allows two-way communication between the ground station and the payload in flight.

Open Log SD Writer

The Open Log chip stores data from the sensors onto a Micro-SD card, same as the chip used in many smart phones. This ensures that even if the ground station temporarily loses the WiFi connection with the payload the data will be saved. This also allows students to obtain useful data from the payload if they haven’t yet integrated the Wi-Fly card, or if they don’t have a local WiFi network with which to communicate in their classroom.

GPS Receiver

The GPS (Global Positioning System) chip provides the three dimensional location (Altitude, Latitude and Longitude) of the S4 payload as a function of time. These data are stored with the data from experimental sensors so that they can be correlated to return scientific results.

Duck Antenna

The S4 payload uses a 2.4 GHz antenna to communicate through the WiFi chip to the ground station computer.

Logic Level Converter

The logic level converter is an electrical device that converts the high (9V) voltage from the battery to the 3.3 V level needed by the Arduino and the other flight board components.

Voltage Regulator

The flight board includes a voltage regulator to ensure the Arduino does not exceed 3.3 V.

Sensor Components

There are several different sensors that can be added to the Flight Board based on the experiments being conducted. Here a few of the different sensor components that can be attached to the flight board:

Accelerometer

The accelerometer sensor measures how fast the payload is accelerating in any direction, returning values for each of the X, Y and Z axes. It measures static acceleration due to the Earth’s gravitational force, as well as acceleration resulting from motion (units in g’s). This data can be used to determine useful information about the flight path of the payload or to provide the orientation of the payload.

Even though the accelerometer only provides relative information, it does not require GPS signals from external satellites. The shield is labeled with a diagram depicting the actual orientation of the X, Y, and Z axes. Its performance is limited to 16 times the g-force from the Earth’s surface, which may be exceeded in some high-powered rocket launches.

Magnetometer

The magnetometer measures the strength of magnetic fields along 3 axes, returning the strength of the magnetic field in each of the X, Y and Z axes (units in mG). The shield is labeled with a diagram depicting the actual orientation of the X, Y, and Z axes.

Barometric Pressure/Temperature Sensor

The barometric pressure and temperature sensors are integrated into a single device which returns two values, one for pressure and one for temperature. This barometric pressure sensor covers a range of pressures from 300-1100 hPa with accuracy down to 0.03 hPa (1 hPa = 100 Pascals, and 1 Pascal = 1 1 N/m2). The temperature is recorded in Celsius.

Humidity/Temperature Sensor

The humidity sensor measures relative humidity (RH) with temperature compensation. The device also consists of a standalone temperature sensor output, which is measured in Celsius.

Programming Code of the Arduino

Obtaining Arduino and S4 Software

  1. Download the S4 Workspace from the S4 website http://s4.sonoma.edu/?page_id=167. Be sure to select the version that will work on your operating system.

  2. Extract the S4 Workspace (.zip) file that you download. Remember, the location where you extract this file will be where all of your files and resources for the S4 project will be located, including any programs you write yourself. It’s recommended you place this file on your desktop, or in a location where you can easily access it.

Basic Arduino Programming Commands and Punctuation Marks

The following commands and punctuation marks are commonly used in the Arduino computer language, called “Processing”.

Curly Brackets {}: Used to indicate the beginning and end of a function.

Semicolon ;: A semicolon is used to end a statement and separate elements of the code.

Setup (): Code written in the setup function will be executed once and only once when the program first starts.

Loop(): Code written in the loop function will be executed over and over again for as long as the device is running. This function is really the core of your program.

Void: This word often appears before the titles of functions such as setup and loop. In the Processing language, when you define a function, you must also define the type of variable that it will return. Using the void command simply means that the function will not return any type of value.

Comments: Any text written after double forward slashes // will be ignored. Comments are used to write notes to yourself as you write your program. These types of notes are very helpful when you need to troubleshoot your code, as they help you to recall the purpose of the code that you originally wrote.

#define: This command defines a variable to make our code cleaner and easier to write and read. It tells the Arduino to use the new value every time it sees the variable name. For example: #define (LED, 13) will write the number 13 every time it sees the variable name “LED” in the code.

PinMode(_,__): Tells the Arduino how to configure a certain pin. First in the parentheses comes the number of the pin you wish to specify followed by the mode of the pin. For example: pinMode(LED,OUTPUT) will tell Arduino to make the LED pin an output. The command pinMode is function and the information inside the parentheses are arguments.

DigitalWrite(_,_): This turns on or off any pin that is an output. The first value in the parentheses, specifies which pin; that the argument is followed by either “HIGH” (on), or “LOW” (off). For example: digitalWrite(LED,HIGH) will turn the LED on.

Delay(__): The delay function tells the Arduino to do nothing for a specified number of Milliseconds. For example: delay(1000) will tell the Arduino to wait and do nothing for 1000 milliseconds or 1 second.

The Future of Virtual Reality Games

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In the world of gaming, what’s more exciting than virtual reality? Pretty much nothing! Nothing could be better than being right there, front and center, in the middle of all the action. Living the game. We are getting closer to a system that will achieve just that. Here is an update of what you can expect from the future of virtual reality.

 

Expense

Just like anything else that’s super cool, virtual reality will be expensive, especially when it first comes out. I’m sure everyone remembers the first laptops, when they came on the market. You couldn’t touch one for under $2,000. Now, you can pick up a decent HP laptop at Walmart for $300.

 

So, yes, virtual reality systems will be expensive at first. But, they will become much more affordable as time goes on.

 

Nanotechnology

There has been a lot of talk about the use of nanotechnology being used in virtual reality, which could make systems more affordable, as well as make them easier to wear and use.

 

Wireless Virtual Reality

Experts say that we won’t be seeing wireless virtual reality in the near future. The reason for this is that wireless technology isn’t advancing as quickly as virtual reality hardware is. So when systems start hitting the market in greater numbers you can expect to remain tethered to a pc or some other device.

 

VR may be difficult to get used to

Many hardcore gamers who’ve reviewed VR headsets have already said it’s going to be more difficult to binge game. Playing virtual reality games seem to make people dizzy, even giving some severe headaches after playing for long periods of time. Whether or not people will get used to these effects or the can be overcome in a different way is anyone’s guess until the VR systems become more widely used.

 

As with everything else, there will be some drawback to virtual reality systems and games. However, I for one am looking forward to giving them a try.

2013 NewSpace Business Plan Competition

The NewSpace Business Plan competition is a project of the Space Frontier Foundation. It is the world’s first professional business plan competition that focuses specifically on the new, up-and-coming and the expanding new space industry. The event was held on October 24th at Stanford University, and was judged by a panel of five venture capitalists with over 25 years of collective investment and business development experience.

“This event provided an excellent opportunity for us all to learn more about the economic dynamics of the American emerging space ecosystem,” said Alex MacDonald, Program Executive for NASA’s Emerging Space Office, “and this event also hopefully helped to nucleate a few more great American space companies.”

The competition’s goal is to assist and showcase new start-up companies as well as expanding firms. These contestants must be able to demonstrate both the ability to provide a return on investment, and be able to demonstrate the capacity to actually contribute something to capitalize on the new space frontier.

The winner of the competition this year was Generation Orbit Launch Services, gaining them the $100,000 first place prize. The Atlanta-based company is developing an air-launched rocket system to serve the micro and nanosat market.

ELIGOS Inc. earned second place in the competition, along with the $25,000 prize. ELIGOS has developed a new type of electric space propulsion unit with the goal of powerful, efficient electric space propulsion for all space propulsion needs which is focused on the lucrative satellite orbit raising and maneuvering market.

Raptor Space Services was awarded 3rd place, and a $10,000 award. Raptor, which is wholly owned by a subsidiary of Skycorp incorporated, has been formed to address the demand for the cost effective orbital transfer of cubesats from the International Space Station (ISS) to more desirable orbits. The Raptor solar electric propulsion spacecraft can carry 50 cubesats for deployment to higher orbits and inclinations in early 2016. Two vehicles, for 100 cubesats, will be built.

A $5,000 market sector award for the best entry in the area of on-orbit servicing was given to a company called Prospect Dynamics, which wasn’t even a finalist in the competition. According to the company’s website, “Prospect Dynamics is a new breed of commercial aerospace supplier demanded by the radical shift unfolding in the industry. We are developing the core technologies to enable space mining, space debris removal and the myriad related applications.”

In 2011 there were about 26 entries, and five of them went on to be finalists. Last year the entries doubled, producing ten finalists. This year there were a total of 45 entries that were painstakingly narrowed down to just eight finalists. The judges of the competition, as well as most of the people in attendance, deemed that most if not all of the companies that got to present were indeed capable of funding and worthy of some funding to move their businesses to success.

“I’m excited to see the steadily increasing level of professionalism and innovative ideas of this year’s contestants, and look forward to following their success,” said Eva-Jane Lark, a competition judge and vice-president of the BMO Nesbitt Burns investment firm in Canada. “It’s great to see more investors attending and becoming aware of the NewSpace Business Plan Competition and this emerging NewSpace industry.”

The competitors produced a wide range of exciting and intriguing proposals, in the areas of on-orbit servicing, nano-tech, biotech and even exotic new software solutions. There were many proposals that are space-scalable, which is a service or product that are very profitable here on earth and can be adapted to solve problems when the need arises in space.

One of the major technologies currently being talked about and is growing rapidly in popularity is 3D printing. Made in Space is a company that is currently customizing a 3D printer for use on the International Space Station, which will give them the capability to make their own spare parts in space. The possibilities for technology like this is endless.

This is the second year in a row that the Emerging Space Portal at NASA Ames has provided the first place prize of $100,000. This year also marked the competition’s first corporate sponsor as well, ATK, which has been a NASA and military contractor for several years. ATK provided the second-place prize of $25,000 as well as providing a $5,000 market sector prize for the best entry in the field of on-orbit servicing, which is a new area everyone is watching closely.