A quick and dirty Eclipse projector

There’s been a lot of talk about this year’s solar eclipse.  Here in the DC area we will see about 91% coverage.  You can find several websites that will show you how to create a pin-hole viewer, and of course eclipse glasses are the latest fashion rage.

Many years ago I worked another eclipse.  The astronomy department at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS set up several telescopes in one of the common areas on campus.  One was used to get some very nice pictures (full disclosure, I ran that one).  Another was set to project the eclipse on a very large projector screen so that anyone could safely see the “action” unfold.

Frankly, time got away from me this year and I didn’t have a plan.  So yesterday I built a quick and dirty version of the scope used as a projector.  My version uses Celestron binoculars, a camera tripod, and a simple screen made of printer paper on a large piece of cardboard.  Here’s the setup during a test run:


The cardboard mounted on the binoculars is simply to shade the projector screen for a better view.  My wife is working as the operator of this contraption as I’m on duty today.  Happy viewing!


Software Defined Radio

The local Ham Radio Outlet had a sale on the SRDPlay RSP1, so I picked one up.  It was a snap to set up, with only a couple of downloads required.  The device itself is quite small and very lightweight, which are important factors for me.  I also picked up some RG-8.  I was “gifted” an old Radio Shack discone antenna to complete the ensemble.

For software I downloaded SDRConsole.  All-in-all it looks and works pretty well.

Another Thrift Store Find

As a full-time RVer, we struggle with how best to maintain connectivity to the Internet.  Public WiFi is risky, but free.  Dedicated LTE solutions are more secure, but very expensive.  So we often use campground WiFi with a couple layers of security at our perimeter.

But that raises another issue – the poor quality of campground WiFi.  At our current location there are plenty of access points, but the design of the network has all of them on 802.11 b/g bands 3 and 5 – along with everyone’s personal LTE hotspot.  Now these access points also support 802.11n, which operates at 5GHz.  That frequency is much less crowded.

Enter a great thrift store find – a Cisco WUMC710.  That’s a 802.11ac wireless media connector and it cost the princely sum of $9.00.  Once configured, it has worked very well (although to be honest the campground network as more issues than poor wireless topology).  As it uses a wired connection to the PC, the PCs onboard WiFi can run as a Windows mobile hotspot. This allows our other devices (the Wii, our new Fire tablet, etc.) to connect to our private network and make use of the security measures I take to protect that little enclave.

Edit: Added a pic of the VPN Firewall and Media Connector.20170523_203725

Thrift-store Find

Whenever my wife wants to go to a thrift-store I usually kill time by looking through the books and the electronics.  The electronics are usually iffy – you never know if they work, and the stores that do allow returns often just provide store credit.

Even with those limitations, I usually end up with some new project. And our last visit sure paid off – I found a Netgear ProSafe FVS318 VPN Firewall for under $3.50.  I haven’t had the chance to fully test it (no WAN connection at our current location, so that will have to wait until I get home), but it does power on and I was able to log in.  While I was there I successfully upgraded the firmware – another good sign.

Right now I don’t have a firm plan for what I’m going to do with it, but will try to work it in to my home cyber range.

Aurdino-based A/C controller

A bit of history: In 2013 we decided that the thermostats in our Bounder motorhome required something a bit more modern (and accurate). We went with the Ecobee smart thermostat. There were some major issues with this project – with the biggest one being that the Ecobee was designed for 24VAC and the RV control systems ran on 12VDC. Of course, that didn’t stop me from giving it the old college try.

The solution was to build two translator/controllers, one for each AC/Furnace pair. These consisted of an Arduino Uno and a SeeedStudios relay shield. I made a very simple board placed in between those shields to allow easier connection from the on-board systems.

While not the prettiest result, it did work well.

A new direction

I recently earned my Technician Class amateur radio license. This is a new hobby, but an old interest.  The next steps are to 1) learn more and 2) integrate my interests/expertise in space, IT, programming, hardware hacks, and (now) radio communications.

US space industrial base – trends and obstacles

This is a very brief overview I wrote in preparation for a test a few years ago.  The UND Space Studies alumni dinner I went to this past weekend made me look back at what little research I had done on the space industry and I found this.   Just throwin’ it out there, comments are always appreciated.


The space industry can be thought of as consisting of four major elements: satellite manufacture, the launch industry, satellite services, and ground equipment manufacturing (United States Dept. of Commerce). In 2100, total world-wide revenue was approximately $168B (SIA, 2011) with private sector employment (2007) of approximately 729,000, including indirect employment  (Krepon and Black, 2009).

The space industry is very tightly coupled to the defense industry, and shares many of the same challenges: Customer demands are unstable; the skills and facilities of most suppliers are highly specialized; many of the large contractors–known as the “primes”– produce defense-related products only.  (Boezer, Gutmanis. 1997)

Historical Background

The post-Cold War period, starting in the early 1990s, has been a period of substatial changes in the space industry.  The 1990s featured a reduction in demand due to reductions in military spending brought about by the end of the Cold War.  This, in turn, caused a reduction in the industry workforce and consolidations among the major actors within the industry with over 50 major mergers or acquisitions taking place. One additional significant result was an increase in the already tight coupling between the aerospace and defense industries. (Cornell, 2011) Interestingly, this consolidation was encouraged by the government, which adopted a policy that attempted to balance anti-trust concerns with anticipated cost reductions. (Deutch, 2001)

The largest segment of the space industry are those companies and interests within what could be called the “Old Space” segment.  These concerns primarily focus on government contracts and research [cititaion needed] and are predominately the “primes” mentioned above. Because of this reliance on government contracts, this segment underwent a series of consolidations and an overall contraction in the 1990s and early 2000s.  US government spending for space systems dropped 46% between1993 and 2001, and the segment saw the number of companies reduced by 17%, leaving only a handful of large defense contractors in control of the industry (Cornell, 2011).

There is, however, another segment of the space industry that is ascendant – companies like Space X, Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace, and many others.  The success of Space X in developing its Falcon series of launch vehicles and of Virgin Galactic in marketing its forthcoming sub-orbital tourism business has generated a considerable amount of excitement in this “New Space” segment (Mangu-Ward, 2007).

Policy Challenges

Both the traditional and New Space segments face some of the same challenges; policy changes, regulatory restrictions and engineering requirements for launch facilities, vehicles, and spacecraft. Additionally, due to a number of factors, such as the previously mentioned industry contraction and high level of regulation, there is a high barrier to entry in the industry.  One result of this is that many of the New Space businesses started (or still are) vanity projects of several high-tech billionaires.

The traditional industry is heavily dependent on government grants and contracts and thus is subjected to a great deal of uncertainty in long-term planning.  This uncertainty limits the risks that businesses within the Old Space segment will take. Similarly, the New Space businesses suffer from policy uncertainties – but of a slightly different type.

Whereas Old Space relies on a policy and political climate that increases – or at least maintains – Federal funding of programs, New Space relies on policies that maintain – or at least don’t increase – government intrusion into their markets or businesses.  New Space faces the temptation of government funding which would restrict the very independence that their nascent industry is built upon (Mangu-Ward, 2007). In short, Old Space faces the risk of losing government interest, while New Space faces the risk of attracting government interest.

One example related to New Space is that of NASA’s “Commercial Orbital Transportation Services” (COTS) program. Under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (Public Law 111–267)  NASA can apply funds to assist private companies in developing a “reliable means of launching cargo and supplies”.

From the regulatory standpoint, ITAR and other export controls regimes are perhaps the biggest challenges both segments face. Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation has likened ITAR to the Iron Curtain (Mangu-Ward,2007), evoking images of the restrictions on international trade imposed by the Soviet bloc on its European satellite nations.  While this is a slightly provocative comparison, the impact is in some ways similar – the trade restrictions place on sharing space technology also restrict the growth on the space industry. [Todo: Summary of trade restrictions from Damast]


Boezer, G., and I. Gutmanis. “The Defense Technology and Industrial Base: Key Component of National Power.” Parameters 27 (1997): 26–51.

Cornell, Ariane. “Five key turning points in the American space industry in the past 20 years: Structure, innovation, and globalization shifts in the space sector.” Acta Astronautica 69, no. 11-12 (December 2011): 1123-1131.

Damast, David. “Export control reform and the space industry.” Georgetown Journal of International Law, 2010.

Deutch, J. “Consolidation of the US defense industrial base.” Acquisition Review Quarterly 8, no. 3 (2001): 137–150.

Fisher, W.O. US Space Policy and Space Industry Strangulation. Strategy Research Project. U.S. Army War College, 2010. DTIC Document. http://handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA521763.

Foust, J. “Emerging Opportunities for Low-Cost Small Satellites in Civil and Commercial Space” presented at the 24th Annual AIAA-USU Conference on Small Satellites, 2010. http://www.futron.com/upload/wysiwyg/Resources/Presentations/SSC10-slides.pdf.

Futron Corporation. State of the Satellite Industry Report. SIA, August 2011. http://sia.org/PDF/2011_State_of_Satellite_Industry_Report_(August%202011).pdf.

Krepon, M., and S. Black. Space Security or Anti-satellite Weapons? Space Security Project. Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2009. Google Scholar. http://kms1.isn.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ISN/103310/ipublicationdocument_singledocument/7F39CD38-ED30-4AE1-AB0C-91D1E63C24B8/en/Stimson_Space_Booklet_2009.pdf.

Mangu-Ward, Katherine. “Space travel for fun and profit: the private space industry soars higher by lowering its sights.” Current (2007): 11+.

McAlister, Philip. “State of the Space Industry” presented at the US Chamber of Commerce Space Enterprise Council Policy Committee Meeting, January 8, 2004. http://www.futron.com/upload/wysiwyg/Resources/Presentations/State_of_the_Space_Industry_0104.pdf.

P.J., Blount. “Informed consent v. ITAR: Regulatory conflicts that could constrain commercial human space flight.” Acta Astronautica 66, no. 11-12 (June): 1608-1612.

“Space more than meets the eye: how big is space really? The industry is relatively small, but its economic and strategic importance may be as boundless as space itself.” OECD Observer (2007): 16+.

“Space tourism.” Science and Children, 2010.

“U.S. and Worldwide Commercial Space Industry Revenue, by Type”. US Census Bureau, 15 2010.