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Linux Software Hardware

Linux Rocket Blasts Off This Fall 327

HardcoreGamer writes "An Oregon amateur rocket group, the Portland State Aerospace Society, plans to launch a Linux-powered rocket weighing 12 pounds to 55,000 feet at a speed of Mach 3 in September, Wired News reports. The rocket's onboard computer is an AMD 586 processor and a Jumptec MOPS/520 PC/104+ board along with a power supply, a PCMCIA card carrier for an 802.11b card to transmit data to the ground, and a carrier board for a 128-MB CompactFlash card for long-term storage. The flight computer runs a stripped-down version of Debian Linux, with the 2.4.20 Linux kernel. The group will present a paper (HTML | PDF ) on the use of free software in rocketry at Usenix 2003. The real question is whether their network card will survive 10 seconds at 15 Gs!"
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Linux Rocket Blasts Off This Fall

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  • So... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2003 @11:57PM (#6158460)
    I guess this redefines the term "crash."
    • Actually i think it creates a reference between computers and rocketry for the word "crash".
    • You should have seen what I did to my network card after it stopped working! Amazingly, after an approximate 20G throw against the wall, it started working again!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @02:19AM (#6158960)
      First of all, the techs will spend 3 weeks just trying to install Linux. There won't be a single driver that's compatible, and the few that exist will be buggy. Each different tech will want a different version, one wants NASA-Linux, another wants Goddard-Linux, and they all will be uninstalling the previous install and secretly putting their own distibution on it. If they ever settle on one install, then they will discover there's no applications to run, except Windows versions. Finally they'll get fed up with it and just put OSX on.
  • by Richardsonke1 (612224) * on Monday June 09, 2003 @11:58PM (#6158464)
    plans to launch a Linux-powered rocket
    I like linux as much as the next geek, but it is not linux powered. Maybe linux guided, but I don't think that linux is acutally causing it to move...
  • Bad idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2003 @11:58PM (#6158466)
    Do you really want to have to pay royalties to SCO on your rocket? There are high-quality commercial embedded OS's without much clearly defined IP rights, and no such liability issues, and I think its a good idea to go with the Gartner recommendation and avoid the potential legal issues with Linux for the time being.
  • Imagine a Beo- aah, forget it.... :-) Huxley PS please don't hurt me...
  • by Melibeus (94008) on Monday June 09, 2003 @11:59PM (#6158476)
    and of course this will just encourage those rascally terrorist who want to build nasty rocketses and blow us all to smithereens. Since now they won't have to pay those pesky licence fees for operating systems for their WMDs.
  • 802.11b? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DarkAurora (324657) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:03AM (#6158491)
    802.11b for data transmission to the ground? I know my 802.11b network doesn't have a range of 55,000 feet.
    • Re:802.11b? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ktakki (64573) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:11AM (#6158534) Homepage Journal
      I was wondering about that, too. But the site [pdx.edu] states that they're allowed to boost the power legally if it's operated by a licensed Ham radio operator (under FCC Part 97 rules).

      Cringely got something like 10Km with a Pringles can, so I expect someone with more of a clue can push that to 55,000'.

      • Re:802.11b? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:22AM (#6158572) Homepage Journal
        http://www.computerworld.com/mobiletopics/mobile/s tory/0,10801,75830,00.html

        Someone's done a 72-mile link.

        The hard part is that you either have to track the rocket with a directional antenna, or try to make everything work with a non-directional antenna. The 72-mile link was from one fixed point to another using mid-size parabolic antennas.
        • Re:802.11b? (Score:3, Informative)

          by po8 (187055)

          We're currently using a cylindrical patch antenna on the rocket, and a semi-directional antenna (helical) on the ground. Eventually, we'll build a tracking dish for the ground, and try to phase the rocket antenna to get the antenna pattern to point more down. Right now the rocket antenna pattern is a sort of "donut", which is fairly suboptimal.

          Microwave antenna design is hard. If any gurus want to contribute expertise, please drop PSAS a note.

          • Re:802.11b? (Score:3, Informative)

            by Muad'Dave (255648)

            I could imagine a 2.4GHz 'stripline' loop (or semi-loop) yagi made of copper tape glued to the outside of your body tube. Naturally the reflector(s) would be up, and the directors down. This would be fairly directional, depending on the number of elements.

            Alternatively, wrap the copper tape helically around the body tube, matching the sense of your ground antenna.

            Good luck!

      • Re:802.11b? (Score:5, Funny)

        by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:22AM (#6158574)
        Cringely got something like 10Km with a Pringles can, so I expect someone with more of a clue can push that to 55,000'.

        I'm sorry, but whats a clue can and why is it better than pringles?

        ;) Thats how I read it the first time anyways...
      • Cringely got something like 10Km with a Pringles can

        Then again, Cringely never bothered to disclose exactly how he accomplished [oreillynet.com] this 'fantastic' feat.
      • Re:802.11b? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tqft (619476)

        I seem to remember lots of people saying what use ham radio -
        http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/06/09/103425 4&mode=thread&tid=137

        If you got a ham licence how far could you listen to your music from your home server with a LEGAL power boost
      • by Griim (8798)
        I can see my /home from here!
    • You should see the rope full of repeaters that it has to drag behind it!
    • Re:802.11b? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by barawn (25691) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:19AM (#6158565) Homepage
      2 things - first, they're not operating in the unlicensed mode - they're using a licensed Ham operator, so they can boost the power.

      Second, they've got clear line of sight (um, unless they plan on launching the thing in the middle of the woods) so you don't lose any signal strength going through things, so you've only got 1/r^2 to deal with. It's a distance, hell yes, but a good enough antenna on both ends will do fine. The only problem with that is that only the ground has a pointable antenna, so here's hoping they've got plenty of link margin.
    • Re:802.11b? (Score:5, Informative)

      by HardcoreGamer (672845) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:34AM (#6158620)
      There's an explanation [pdx.edu] of how they intend to achieve this on the site, along with a link to a news release that cites the Swedish Space Corporation's success transmitting data over 310 kilometers using 802.11b [alvarion.com].
  • by psoriac (81188) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:03AM (#6158493)
    I think the real question is will the pringles can survive 15 g's for 10 seconds?
  • Software (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fname (199759) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:04AM (#6158498) Journal
    Well, let's see how the software does; it's notoriously difficult [slashdot.org]to design rocket software.

    But, I gather the greatest stresses will be on the computer hardware, as 10 G's will put a meaningful load on the parts, not to mention vibrational loads. And rockets are difficult to begin with. Here's hoping it works.

    • Re:Software (Score:5, Funny)

      by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:10AM (#6158530) Journal
      kernel_panic() : This is a one way trip ! Aaaaaaa !
    • 10g is not a lot of acceleration for electronics, as long as large components are securely fastened (even with tie-wraps), and there are no moving parts.

      The only non-solid-state parts on the design are the connectors, which can handle hundreds or thousands of g's of acceleration without "bouncing" on the pins.

      PC-104 is designed for high-stress applications such as this.

    • Re:Software (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      ; it's notoriously difficult to design rocket software.

      not for launch guidance. hell I dont even need to have a computer or software for launch control.

      all analog electronics with a simple gyro controlling fin servos, with a timer to click in an analog circuit to change angle of acent...

      it's insanely simple... how do you think VonBraun did it in the 30's? certianly without digital computers.
  • WiFi (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Alpha_Nerd (565637)
    I want a wifi card with that range!
  • Trouble? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dumbush (676200) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:08AM (#6158519)
    Bush: linux can be use to launch rocket? The very thing that terrorist lacks? It's free and distributed widely on the Internet? We got a problem here Ashcroft: not only that, but its source code is not encrypted, anyone could store a copy in their compueter. Bush: Then I'm assuming that even if we EMP all the computers, the source might still be stored somewhere as a printed copy? Ashcroft: I'm afraid so. I always have a problem tainting uses of technology Bush: then let's ban printers as well, that will buy you sometime.
  • Ours is bigger. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Boatman (127445) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:08AM (#6158521)
    Ours [byu.edu] is bigger [lunkwill.org].
  • how fast will the rocket be able to do "apt-get dist-upgrade"?
  • by barawn (25691) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:15AM (#6158551) Homepage
    Heck, I'd worry about the CF card. I doubt it's a hard disk (of the spinny-type) as the paper states, as that'd crash on either liftoff or chute deployment. I'd bet it's a flash-type, just like a simple camera memory card. And then I'd wonder whether it'd survive too. Many of them have altitude restrictions (though I seriously doubt they're for real - it's probably a "don't use this in an airline design!" warning) as well. Remember to put some sort of retaining mechanism on the CF slot. Wouldn't want the card pulling out on liftoff, now would you. :)

    Yipes. High-altitude, high stress stuff is always a pain (which is why aerospace companies make so much money designing things).

    It'll definitely be cool to see if this works. The paper's a little light on details of the design (for certain things - like the actual construction or parts choices - for other things it seems pretty detailed).
    • I can't comment on the whole rocket thing, but I can attest to the fact that a compact flash card can survive a trip through the washing machine, including the spin cycle.

      The pics that were on it were still there when it was through...didn't put it in the dryer though. Unfortunately the pics were not dirty to begin with, so I can't say whether or not they were cleaned in the whole process.

      What kind of G's does a Kenmore produce?



  • by bad_fx (493443) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:17AM (#6158556) Journal
    ...that my design documents aren't the only ones that look like this [wired.com].
  • by Bowie J. Poag (16898) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:19AM (#6158566) Homepage

    Aim for Redmond, guys.
  • Will never fly... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @12:30AM (#6158602)
    As others have pointed out, it is not *linux* powered. But now thanks to Ashcroft and his straight man, bin Laden - anyone using model rocket fuel is considered a terrorist threat [scifitoday.com]. So, not only is not linux powered, it probably won't be powered at all.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sure the OS may be a version of Linux, but the really interesting part is that they've found a way to harness all of that heat from the AMD to get the rocket that far up!

    Talk about potential for burn up on reentry though. :)
  • by The Cydonian (603441) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @01:00AM (#6158711) Homepage Journal

    Aww c'mon, they've only Linux. Not as if installing Linux is rocket-science...

  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @01:14AM (#6158759)
    This is an interesting excerpt from the HOWTO:


    During system installation, it's important to use the right networking packages, to cope with the slightly nonstandard hardware. At the bash prompt, type:

    % apt-get skynet


  • by malakai (136531) * on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @01:23AM (#6158787) Journal
    ... have been doing this for awhile. The PC104 stack in their VTVL rockets/crafts have always been linux kernels.

    He's also been using 802.11 for communications.

    His laptop control station is win32 though.

    ArmadilloAerospace [armadilloaerospace.com]

    • by tramm (16077) <hudson@swcp.com> on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @08:19AM (#6160017) Homepage
      ... have been doing this for awhile. The PC104 stack in their VTVL rockets/crafts have always been linux kernels.
      As have we at autopilot.sourceforge.net [sourceforge.net]. We're not building rockets, but autonomous rotorcraft.
      He's also been using 802.11 for communications.
      Same here. Our early helicopters used CF 802.11 cards, but the cheap patch antennas could not handle the vibration. We're now using a D-Link ethernet bridge with 100baseT for the onboard network.
      His laptop control station is win32 though.
      We're not! Although the network layer and gui are all portable and do run on Linux, Mac OS X, and Win32.

      The hardware is for sale from Rotomotion [rotomotion.com], too, so you can build your own.

  • From the story: "The real question is whether their network card will survive 10 seconds at 15 Gs!"

    It will if it is embedded in epoxy.
  • ...2...1.... LAUNCH!

    Oh shit... sorry guys, gotta start over. I had the caps-lock on.
  • modprobe: Can't locate module podbaydoors
  • The Norwegians have a Penguin rocket! [periscope1.com]
  • Viking III (Score:3, Funny)

    by MrEd (60684) <tonedog@@@hailmail...net> on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @02:38AM (#6159005)
    Just imagine a MIRV cluster of these!
  • 15 G's isn't much (Score:2, Informative)

    by Natchswing (588534)
    About one hour ago we launched a payload from Wallops Flight Facility [nasa.gov] called DEBI [erau.edu]. The payload acheived 40 G's acceleration and a velocity of mach 10. The wire wrap boards survived the flight and the DIPs were merely pressed into the wire wrap sockets.

    I think a bigger concern would be whether the connectors are properly held together and maintain electrical connection. The boards should be fine.

    You can find lots of DEBI info by looking through the past two weeks of my journal. You'd have to follow l

  • security? (Score:2, Insightful)

    I have to wonder if 802.11b is really all that great of an idea for this. A person could build a jammer for $5 in radio shack parts that would crash this thing.
  • Vibrations (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gwappo (612511) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @03:42AM (#6159179)
    Judging from this [akamai.net] image from the article, their little machine isn't exactly vibration-proof.

    Not sure if they tested for this but if they didn't I think this particular rocket might not go too far.

  • "This is certainly a brave approach that throws everything we thought we knew about building a rocket" said NASA Ames' deputy director for research, G. Allen Flynt. "It shows that we've being doing it all wrong for years, trying to build ever more powerful, more efficient rocket motors, when the real solution was staring us in the face; Replace the expensive rocket motor with a cheap commodity PC running GNU/Linux. Brilliant. My hat goes off to these guys"
  • 15G is nothing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nmg196 (184961) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @04:41AM (#6159303)
    15G is nothing - that's like dropping the card onto carpet from about 2ft. Not exactly stressful for some solid state hardware - even a hard drive could probably cope with that while running. The duration doesn't make much difference - providing they don't exceed the amount of G required to break something (probably more like 80+G). The vibrations might cause the G level to peak much higher than the overall accelleration of the rocket however.

    I would have thought that vibrations are much worse than the overall acceleration of the rocket; Anyone ever taken a computer out of the back of a car (which probably never exceeds 1.5G) only to find that some screws have come loose or a PCI card has fallen out? (cos I have!).
  • by chronos82 (680032) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @04:52AM (#6159328) Homepage
    NEWS JUST IN---->The RIAA has sued the makers of said rocket, as the 802.11b link could "techinically be used to share illegal files accross the network".
  • confused.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @05:10AM (#6159365) Homepage
    I though the first linux powered rocket took flight 2 years ago...

    I remember they used the jumptec 386 dimmpc and used ham radio packet on 144/440mhz to get telemetry up/down.

    I know I saw it here. Can anyone find it?
  • by gilesjuk (604902) <giles@jones.zen@co@uk> on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @05:50AM (#6159428)
    Paint on the side... "Try and examine the code on this SCO" :)
  • Mach 3 (Score:5, Funny)

    by micromoog (206608) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @07:46AM (#6159803)
    . . . a speed of Mach 3 . . . The rocket's onboard computer is an AMD 586 processor . . .

    Finally, somebody gets an AMD to run at a high speed.

"When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail." -- Abraham Maslow