Tag Archives: USRP

Reviving a Piece of the 1970's: ISEE-3


There's been a decent buzz in the space and tech communities about the "ISEE-3 Reboot Project", so I thought it would be worth mentioning here and pointing out some of wonderful techniques they are using to revive a satellite from almost 40 years ago.

The ISEE-3 satellite is one of three satellites that made up the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) program.  There were some interesting orbital things done with this satellite after its launch in August of 1978.  It was also the first spacecraft to go through the tail of a comet!  As with all missions, this one came to an end and the satellite was not head from since 1998.  The equipment to talk to the satellite was removed and it was considered to be out of service.

ISEE-3 sits in a heliocentric orbit, meaning that orbits the sun, not the Earth.  We knew that ISEE-3 would make another stop by our planet in 2014 when it was parked in this orbit in 1986 (from what I can tell anyway).  A group of citizen scientists started the ISEE-3 Reboot project, crowd funded on the internet.  They got permission to take over the satellite and intend to use the Moon's gravity and a rocket burn to send it on another mission.  If the window of June is missed, the satellite will probably never be heard from again.

The team was able to contact ISEE-3 on May 29 using the Arecibo observatory radio telescope.   The craft was commanded to transmit engineering telemetry, basically a health screening of the systems.  The team is currently busy decoding the data (streaming in at 512 bits/sec) and planning how they will execute the rocket burn.

The team is running out of an old McDonalds at the NASA Ames Research Park, the makeshift mission control has been termed "McMoons" after hosting previous space based projects.



The part of this that I find amazing is the role that software defined radio is playing.  Software defined radio (SDR) is a way to use software to emulate radio equipment.  With a small USB stick I can receive many different kinds of radio signals and decode them, something that would have required racks of equipment a few years ago.  This team is using a radio termed the "USRP" that allows them to transmit and receive.  I've written about them before (here) and have used them in research.  They are amazing little units and provide a unique learning opportunity.  (Maybe I'll post something about a radar we made with one of them as a demo!)  A photo tweeted by the team shows 2 USRP units and laptops hooked into the giant dish antenna at Arecibo.

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 12.51.08 PM


That's all for now, but stay tuned to the team's website for updates and I'll be keeping up with the progress as well.  This is just another incredible example of how advanced hardware and software that has become relatively cheap can allow a group of savvy citizens to accomplish incredible feats!  Way to go folks!


Favorite Books and Products of 2013

This year, like every other, was full of lots of great, okay, and no so good things. Being the list-oriented person that I am, it seemed appropriate to list out great things of the year. While there were many things that could go here (favorite trips, etc), I thought keeping with the orientation of the blog we should look at the favorite books and products of the year. Not all of these came out in 2013, but I discovered them all in 2013. Without further delay:

Favorite Books

In Suspect TerrainIn Suspect Terrain - John Mcphee
This book reads like a novel, but gives massive geologic context. It is part of a series that I will continue reading this year. If you are curious about the geologic history of the east, this gives a driving cross-section and great context.

Scientific PresentationsThe Craft of Scientific Presentations - Michael Alley I was fortunate enough to attend my 2nd Michael Alley workshop this year and gained much from both it and his book. Dr. Alley is a phenomenal person that is full of energy. His presentation advice helped me give an AGU talk, as well as successfully pass my candidacy exams (those should probably be posts).

EE 101Electrical Engineering 101 - Darren Ashby I've seen this book for quite some time, but decided to give it a read and see what it was like. Overall it was a great intro to electronics for new-comers and a good review for those who, like me, perform lots of electronics hobby work, but are not professional engineers. A few of the analogies were somewhat wrong at anything more than the basic level, but that's what they were there for.

GuesstimationGuesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin - Lawrence Weinstein A fun read that helps speed up your order of magnitude estimation capabilities. These were great lunch-hour exercises.

Command and Control


Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety - Eric Schlosser Having lived in Arkansas for most of my life, this book was of interest to me. I was quite surprised at just how unsafe much of the nuclear arsenal was and how many close calls we have had.

Feynman's RainbowFeynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life - Leonard Mlodinow Recommended to me by a professor in the department, this was a quick read that gave an outside look at the life of Richard Feynman from one of his colleagues. A must for any Feynman fan or general physics reader.

Data PointsData Points: Visualization That Means Something - Nathan Yau Another stellar book from Natan Yau of flowingdata.com. Great advice on presenting complex data in an easy to digest form.



Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig Sometimes I will read a classic, and this did not disappoint. Very quotable and very enjoyable.


Favorite Products

Timbuk2Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag I didn't want to carry my leather briefcase throughout Italy and Holland this summer, so I ended up with this bag. I can't say enough about how durable it is and what a great traveling companion it makes. I have notice many geoscience folks carry these and believe that they should sponsor AGU.

Blackwing 602Palomino Blackwing 602 Pencils A post in the "How I Work Series" mentioned these and I must say that they are the darkest pencils I've seen. I generally use pen in my notebooks, but these are great replacements.



Beaglebone Black This is the new small/embedded computer design. I'm implementing them in my infrasound bucket project and in a few others.



Hakko FX-888D Soldering Station This is my new go-to soldering station for those of us on a budget.


USRP Software Defined Radios While expensive, I got to use some of these in a recent project and make a radar out of them!

What did I miss?