Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

What I've been working on: Rad detector for Mars, SPI, Magnetorquer

So, I promised a look at what I've been working on in some of my Engineering classes, so let's start things off with a look at a radiation detector for Mars.

Motivation: Space exploration is not only an interest of mine, it is a busy industry that shows much promise in research, vocational opportunities, and learning about ourselves and the universe. Radiation is a pressing concern, not only for electronics, but obviously for the astronauts exposed to it. While cost and supplies are huge obstacles in the journey to Mars, radiation is still the largest.

Radiation Risk to Astronauts

So, for my Payload Design class (a payload, by the way, is the main instrument used for a mission), we, (a classmate and I) decided to design a radiation detector for Mars. Now, this has been done before, by many missions, but I choose this project so as to learn more about radiation and the design practice. Some of the previous Mars radiation instruments, for the Odyssey mission, are included below:

Mars Odyssey Instrumentation

So, first step is research. We researched radiation, and its energies and wavelengths, so as to identify our subject; to know our target so to speak. Next, we looked into the previous instrumentation and missions that concerned themselves with assessing the radiation risk on Mars. While it didn't take a lot for me to type just now, or you to read, all of that research took a considerable amount of time. As you'll likely know, it takes a long time to find what you are looking for, understand it, and analyze and compare what you have found.

Next step is the design. That's where we are now. After learning about spectrometers, specifically gamma-ray spectrometers, scintillation counters, and the theories behind both, we were able to begin the design of our very own. While not very original, ours resembles the Radiation Assessment Detector to be used in future Mars missions, seen here: Radiation Assessment Detector.

There are some major and minor changes for our design that will have to fit our mission profile, and understanding how the environment or design considerations factors into later aspects of the design, well, that's the game I play every day.

We documented our information, and verified our data with some equations relating to the function of our device, and presented said information Thursday in class for what is known as the DDR (Detailed Design Review). The presentation went well, both my classmate and I are pretty decent at them by now, and we await our professor's comments. So, now you have seen a little of what goes on in my life, specifically, the engineering design practice.


I had a lab this week for my Space Hardware class. We have moved on from the Analog lab sessions, in which most of the work was in generating, observing, and analyzing radio frequencies and other signals like AM and FM. This week marked the first of the Digital labs.

In this lab, we learned about SPI, or the Serial Peripheral Interface. For a decent background, read this: Serial Peripheral Interface. For a shorter explanation, let me try:

You remember how printers and everything else on a computer used to plug in with these blue, white, multi-pinned cables? No? See the multi-holed port on the side of your computer? No? Well, data transfers along the cable, through the pins, into your computer or other system, and back again. It is a way for sending and receiving information. The intent of our lab was to learn more about them and use some programming knowledge to control it to control an amplifier chip.

I can tell you that I spent 3 hours on this lab and did not finish it. I am not discouraged as I have more time and it was my first digital lab; bound to be difficult. It was interesting as I learned a lot about the inner components of the SPI and learned more about programming in LabView. The programming is not as ominous as it might sound as LabView is a graphical "programming" tool. Basically, you have to discern the logic of the circuit and then add the appropriate icons/buttons, etc. to get the job done. Doesn't sound tough when I say it like that, but it can be a bit of a hassle. After a few...okay, a lot, of questions and discussions with my professor, I was able to figure it out, but by the time that happened, the lab session was over. I get a makeup lab session and I can finish the program at home and show my professor anytime. All in all, it was fun, playing around and controlling some hardware and learning more about the things I take for granted everyday.


For my Mechanical Design class, I am working on a project and it's very exciting. A classmate and I are working on a device known as a Magnetorquer. Simply put: a magnetorquer is an electro-magnet, placed in a satellite, which induces a magnetic field which interacts with the Earth's magnetic field creating torque, or a turning force. This force is used to turn the satellite so it can point in the exact direction we desire.

Pretty neat, no? It's a great device because you can replace thrusters and save fuel and thus expenses. (A 30g magnetorquer is far more desirable than several kilograms of fuel)

So, we are working on that. As mentioned before, the first step was research, and we are almost past the design phase. The specifications are listed here: CubeSat Magnetorquer, and our job is to create a comparable product, except without the 1200 Euro pricetag.

It's going well so far! As I mentioned, we have moved past the design stage and have begun ordering the wire and metal core. Thankfully, the basic concept is not that difficult to implement and we are hoping to make several prototypes in order to familiarize ourselves with the process and to test out the performance of our design before we make the final product. We are hoping to make 4 of these by next month to not only impress our professor and get good grades, but also because the YUSend laboratory, professors and grad students working on small-satellite design, want these magnetorquers to put on their satellite, thereby to be launched into space by 2015.

How exciting is this?! Not only will I learn a lot, and hopefully do well academically. Not only will I get a chance to actually see my designs through to completion and construction, but I will have the chance to have something I make serve a useful purpose on a satellite IN SPACE! I am very excited, not only for the reputation and footnote on my C.V., but mostly for this amazing opportunity. It only motivates me to work harder and succeed!

Whew! That's about it this week. It was a lot of work, but honestly, is usual for me, and worth it. I love what I do and I love that I am getting closer to working in the industry. I hope to continue this update, once a week, and I really thank you for reading. I know I can ramble on, but I wanted a chance to show off what I've been doing.

Thank you, so very much, for reading, and I hope this helps you appreciate what it is I've been doing with my time.

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