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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Space Exploration - Rosetta is about to land

Hello, the Rosetta probe reached the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko back in August 2014 after 10 years of flight.

Rosetta is a project of ESA (European Space Agency) 

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (@ESA)

Today, November 12 2014 it will send a lander (Philae) to touch down on the surface of the comet, actually this is going to happen in few minutes but the radio signal will take another 28 minutes before reaching us.

The Go/No Go decision was taken last night and it was not an easy one since problems were detected with a thruster that was supposed to slow down the descent.
As it will not be usable, the landing structs are supposed to absorb the impact.

Another issue is related to the fact that the lander will have to secure itself on the surface by drilling screws in the surface and the thruster was supposed to provide pressure to ensure this activity will not push the lander away from the surface.
Hopes are the harpoons will be enough to prevent this issue.

This is the first time we try to land something on a comet, it was never attempted before, so there are many things that can go wrong.

Here the briefing

Will update this post after the touchdown procedure is complete (fingers crossed)

Landing webcast here

10:05 CET - Successful separation confirmed
14:20 CET circa - First images showing Philae detached from Rosetta arrived
Note : Lol, ESA seems to be able to reach a comet about 1.700Ls away from Earth (and hopefully land on it)... but apparently cannot manage a webcast :) And that's why they say a webcast is NOT rocket science!
17:04 CET - Excitement of ESA personnel seems to indicate that telemetry data confirmed the touchdown was successful 
Currently they are trying to figure out if the lander bounced on the surface of if it managed to settle down properly.
ESA just confirmed the lander is sitting on the surface. Success!!!!

Captain James T. Kirk wishes good luck to Rosetta

The ROLIS instrument on board of the Philae lander module captured this image while descending to the surface

"The image shows comet 67P/CG acquired by the ROLIS instrument on the Philae lander during descent on Nov 12, 2014 14:38:41 UT from a distance of approximately 3 km from the surface. The landing site is imaged with a resolution of about 3m per pixel.
The ROLIS instrument is a down-looking imager that acquires images during the descent and doubles as a multispectral close-up camera after the landing. The aim of the ROLIS experiment is to study the texture and microstructure of the comet's surface. ROLIS (ROsetta Lander Imaging System) is a descent and close-up camera on the Philae Lander. It has been developed by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin. The lander separated from the orbiter at 09:03 GMT (10:03 CET) and touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko seven hours later."

As European tax payer, I am happy my taxes are used for this kind of purposes.
More space Exploration, less jet fighters!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FTDI - was it a good move?

We are all using FTDI products.
They had a great idea to bring together the MCU world with modern computers.

Back few years ago we all had serial ports on our computers and we used to interface microcontrollers and other stuff with them.
They worked ok, but they had limitations (speed, number of devices connected...) so USB was introduced.

Cool, but then all those uart based devices became hard to be connected to PCs.

FTDI invented a sort of bridge between serial and usb standards, packed in a tiny chip, not difficult to use.
Those chips are present in Arduino boards, in Launchpads, basically in most MCU or FPGA jtag programmers... which is great, well done FTDI.

Issue is that their prices are typically quite high, sometimes exceeding the cost of the MCU you need to program, which is kind of a nonsense.
Because of this a number of counterfeit chips invaded the market, damaging FTDI who rightfully holds the copyright for that technology.

FTDI then decided they had to protect their IP and investments, which is understandable and took actions.

Dave @EEVBlog explains it in detail in this video

Now the issue is that FTDI decided to BRICK -render inoperative- all products that are using counterfeit chips.
They posted a driver update for windows that sets to zero the productId stored in the flash rom of the chip, making it unrecognizable by the operating system.

Obviously the reaction of the user community was not nice to the company and they are probably going to lose several customers.
Apparently the "aggressive" driver was removed from windows update, but several products were rendered useless already.

This makes me wonder few things :

1) Am I ok for an OS like Windows to publish drivers that can potentially cause harm to whatever in my PC, without having the company responsible for the OS reviewing the source code and detecting eventual issues? This would not easily happen with Linux since drivers -excluding proprietary ones, which are by default disabled- are available in source code for the community to inspect.

2) Isn't a bit dangerous that most of the devices we use can be easily bricked via software?
Shouldn't we have some kind of repository of the config data stored in our usb devices roms, so that we could eventually re-program it if it gets damaged by malware?
Shouldn't  such data be writable only via an alternate interface, which is not connected to the PC?

3) Is maybe the time to start pushing more USB enabled MCUs and steer away from the old uart interface? Granted, usb libraries are a bit more complex to use, maybe they should be improved... but then we would not need FTDI chips anymore.

4) Shouldn't we push more for open source/hardware technology, also to protect ourselves from damages that greed (of the companies that cloned the chips and from the IP owner company as well) could damage us?