A lot of people don’t realize that Amateur Radio can involve spacecraft, including the International Space Station (ISS). When it passes overhead, there’s a lot more than images you can receive!
When this blog post was written there were 7 astronauts aboard the ISS and several have an amateur radio license. There are 2 radios currently aboard and the astronauts will occasionally use them to contact people when passing overhead, although that is really pretty rare. But the radios are almost always in use, except during a spacewalk, from amateur radio operators sending radio signals up to the station which then repeats them back down to earth.
The ISS passes overhead an average of 5-6 times a day; anyone can track and predict when it will be passing over their exact location. You can even see the station passing by in the night time sky on a clear night. But what’s exciting to me, as the station passes overhead you can hear amateur radio operators sending voice and data traffic up to the ISS which then transmitted down to earth. That allows their signals to travel much further; I’ve easily picked up signals from Oklahoma and further with a handheld radio or scanner.
A couple of us at the makerspace are working on building an antenna to transmit up to the ISS. If you’re interested in learning more, stop by the makerspace during Open Shop time. And if the ISS is passing overhead, we can let you listen to the traffic yourself!
This month started off with our 6th annual Putt Putnam County event, which is always exciting not only for those building a mini-golf hole but also the crowd played course down Franklin Street. This year was much colder than usual, but still fun for those that made it out to play the community built 12 hole course this year. We’ll be looking to increase the number next year, so start working on ideas now!
We’ve also had several classes this month, including offering our first welding class where people could learn how to weld by making a yard bird! Troy Fiechter, one of our members & a talented artist/welder on his own, taught the basics of welding in the half-day class and then helped them to make their own yard art using a wide variety of different scrap parts and tools.
Our Tinkercad/3D Printing class was a good turnout and nice mix, combining interested locals and people that drove up from Linton, Indiana. Not the farthest someone’s driven to take one of our classes (Kokomo still holds that record), but nice to know that others appreciate our offerings. October also means we get to help out with Putnam County Public Library‘s Halloween Event, which we bring out one of our 3D printers to make bats, skulls, and other scary objects to give away to the kids that come there.
We’ve got a number of classes planned for November, including a Raspberry Pi configuration class this Wednesday and Learning to Solder class later in the month. Check out our learning / classes webpage for those & more.
This summer we decided to make some changes to the layout at Castlemakers. Perhaps the most visible was moving our Shapeoko XXL from downstairs into the middle room on the main level. With all the parts & equipment donations that we also received this summer, it’s felt like a big project – which it has been. But we’re beginning to reap some of the rewards of the move with better equipment utilization, even if we’re still not done yet.
This summer also brought in a large amount of unusual equipment, from electronics, laptops, & printers to a rather large Nd:YAG laser! We’ve got plenty of tear-down material for inquisitive minds right now.
But the most incredible gift was from Travis & Weiwei Chao, who formerly had an eBay store that sold 3D printer, CNC, & electronic parts. When they decided to sell their house & then close their eBay store, they gave what was left to Castlemakers! We now have lot of extra components at the makerspace & plan to use the parts in future classes at Castlemakers. Stop during our Open Shop times if you’d like to see the new things we got or just have an urge to take something apart to see what’s inside…
We’ve seen a lot of different mini-golf holes built for Putt Putnam County, now in its 6th year. Often questions come up about supporting the playing surface or the sides to keep the ball on the playing surface when building a hole.
We’ve got some general guidelines here, and you can always try searching the internet, but here’s some thoughts on what we’ve seen people create. Really almost anything will work, the piece of plywood with players laying/arranging building blocks at the event comes to mind, but for those that want to make something a little more complex:
Many folks use 2×4’s or 2×2’s to raise the playing surface off of the ground to allow the ball to drop into a hole or cup. Do remember that people could be walking on the playing surface depending on your design.
Others have kept their main surface on the ground, then have the ball hole higher than the playing surface.
For covering the playing surface, plain carpeting or felt is common. But anything will work, including old fanfold computer paper printouts! Outdoor carpeting that looks like grass can be found and felt is available in the fabric department. Or just paint it!
You’ll need to get the mini-golf hole to the event on Franklin Street Friday October 7th. Some have chosen to keep them light by using smaller or thinner boards for support. Many times it’s simply based on whatever wood is readily available.
We’re here to help you build that mini-golf hole, both with ideas and suggestions on construction and materials. Stop by during our Open Shop hours or contact one of us.
This coming Wednesday, August 3rd, from 7-8:30 pm we’ll be putting on a solar system information session at Castlemakers. This no-charge presentation will briefly discuss general types of solar systems used in homes, then dive deeper into photovoltaic systems and solar panels. If there’s time, we’ll also talk briefly about how to determine solar potential at your location. If you’d like to read more, here’s a blog post that covers a session we did before.
This Friday night, at Greencastle’s First Friday, we’ll be trying something new, letting folks carve a foam block into a car, then propel them down a wire on Franklin Street.
For the first attempts we’re keeping it simple, although admittedly we’ve got bigger plans. For Friday night we’ve built a platform to put the foam block on, participants can carve the block into a car body, then will launch it down a cable using a CO2 cartridge.
In the future we’re going to try 3D printed and laser-cut wheels & want to also try using model rocket engines for propulsion. We’ve even thought about dual tracks for racing and putting an on-board micro:bit to measure speed and acceleration. Come join us on Friday night from 6-8 pm on Franklin Street in downtown Greencastle and to try out our first prototypes!
There’s a lot of similarity between amateur radio (or ham radio) and ‘makers’ – in fact many people are involved in both. With the electronics workbench area that we added to the makerspace, there has been even more interest in amateur radio. Several months ago, we put a 2m/70cm member-donated antenna on the roof, then started looking for a transmitter/ receiver & more projects next.
A recent article(p30) on building a low power Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) radio beacon using an Arduino had us wanting to make one. We have experience with single board computers & most of the parts at the makerspace already – so why not make one! But before I could get mine finished another member, who recently got his amateur radio license, redesigned the project using Raspberry Pi Zero and got his running in Crawfordsville!
Transmitting on less power than many wifi routers (100mW in this case), he’s had confirmation of his signal on the 20m frequency band in Australia, Denmark, off the coast of Africa, and even an Antartica research station! Stop by the makerspace – we’re glad to show off what we’re doing.
This last weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering for the Indiana VEX Robotics Championship in Indianapolis. While I’ve been to both FRC and VEX competitions, this annual event at Lucas Oil Stadium still stands out as my favorite. Sponsored by Techpoint Foundation for Youth, this year there were 274 enthusiastic teams competing and 1500 students there at the Saturday event.
I ended up being one of the judges for the middle school VEX IQ Challenge section, which included around 80 teams. For this event we broke into pairs to interview the teams in the morning, then met later in the afternoon to combine scores from their engineering notebook judgements, in-person interview rubrics, and match scores to develop the awards and winners. As you can imagine for an event this size, it takes a LOT of organization, hard work & hustle by the organizer to make this all happen that day!
But when you listen to the excitement, the passion and what the teams are learning, you realize what a makes it such a great event. It not only teaches youth STEM skills but they learn about teamwork, project management, and much more. This event has turned into the biggest robotics competition in the US, and Techpoint Foundation for Youth works hard to make it happen. You can read more about this year’s event in their blog post and some highlights of this year’s event in this video.
Besides having a lot of physical tools & hardware at Castlemakers, we also spend a lot of time with software. For many of us making physical things is a lot of the enjoyment, but in today’s world many of the newer tools use software to control the machinery and the product design is often created in software also.
This ‘fusion’ of software and hardware is what gives many of the newer tools we have their power; whether it’s 3D printers, our laser cutter/engraver, desktop CNC’s, or even some of our electronic test equipment. Knowing how to use that software to its full advantage can make things simpler to create or even create a more innovative design possible. Skilled makers will combine that knowledge with the older hands-on skills; for example, knowing how a kerf will impact the final piece when you a laser cut wood.
Many of our classes, like our upcoming Fusion 360 class, help others to learn the software that can be used to design and create digitally and then later into actual objects. And our monthly Castlemakers CoderDojo helps youth learn about coding to create computer programs, online environments, and even coding with physical computing. Stop by to see some of the creations or attend one of our events or classes!
We’ve started the new year by offering a CNC class and planning an exciting year of learning opportunities to help people with making & DIY skills. Next week on Jan 26th we’ll be doing a workshop on doing a Solar Assessment using PVWatts, part of the grant we received last year to create a solar awning and become an area resource for solar/photovoltaic energy. And watch for a more advanced CNC class that will focus on techniques that can be used to create signs and other objects out of wood, acrylic, and maybe with some patience even metal.
But we’re especially interested in what you’d like to learn about. Our classes are for and taught by people in the community. We’ll have a Fusion 360 (a design program) class in February and are planning to offer the Jelly Art class again this summer. But tell us what you’re interested in by email (classes-at-castlemakers.org) or stop by the makerspace sometime and let us know. If you have an interest in teaching something to others in the community, also let us know – we’d be glad to see if we can help offer it through Castlemakers!