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Humble Beginnings

Part of the Flight Control collection.

Electronic Components and Test Parts

A few years ago, I decided to take my software skills into the physical world. I hacked some Arduino-based projects together—circuits, some code, and plastic enclosures I bought from a supplier.

As my Big Cartel Employee Art Grant project, I’m learning how to 3D print so I can design, prototype, and build my own enclosures for electronic projects—specifically custom controllers for Kerbal Space Program and X-Plane.

Printing a Big Cartel Fletch

With a few classes at NextFab under my belt, I’m starting to get a handle on this whole 3D printing thing, and just a few weeks ago, a FlashForge Creator Pro showed up at my door.

I’ve been in practice mode so far—printing basic shapes, test patterns, and the like. Once I got comfortable, I printed a little Big Cartel fletch or two.

Now I’m moving into the meat of my project: concepting out the flight control panel I’ve got in mind. As seen in the first photo of this post, I’ve started with some basic component tests. I’m going to nail down exactly what dimensions and considerations are needed to mount buttons, switches, joysticks, and displays, so I can use those specifications in my initial enclosure design.

From there I’ll work out a specific layout of controls and circuits, and then design the complete enclosure. Once the enclosure design is finished up, I’ll break it down into printable chunks, piece it together, install the components, and wire everything together.

Kerbal Space Program Control Panel, Alpha Version

Luckily I’m not starting from scratch when it comes to the control side of this project. Years ago, I built out two working control panels—one filled with switches and buttons, and the other with two joysticks for docking controls (“Come on, TARS!”).

These were built from mostly the same electronic components I’ve got now, but were installed into generic plastic enclosures I bought from a supplier. They worked, but were rough alpha versions of what I really want to build.

The control panel I really want to build is only possible if I’m designing and building the enclosures myself, so it’s pretty exciting to be starting this project. Over the next few posts, I’ll show off the component tests I’m working on, and the initial design concepts for the finished project. Follow along here!