back to article NASA building network cables that can survive supersonic flight - could this finally deliver unbreakable RJ45 latching tabs?

NASA has revealed it’s building network cables capable of surviving supersonic flight. The cables are needed for a project called “SCHAMROQ” – aka Schlieren, Airborne Measurements, and Range Operations for QueSST. Keen-minded Reg readers will recall that QueSST is NASA’s attempt to create a new supersonic jetliner, code-named …

  1. IGotOut Silver badge

    No!

    Breakable latching tabs are the best invention.

    Break it where the narrow part widens then the wankers cant remove them. Reduced the number of times a thousand fold when I had to go out and patch back in IP phones (despite them having a pass through port with attached cable), projectors, conference phones, digital displays, av equipment and on and on.

    Apparently breaking tabs was a good idea, but breaking the fingers of those that kept unpatching this was not an acceptable, although preferred, option

    1. msknight
      Joke

      Re: No!

      Isn't that why they invented that ubiquitous tool, the paperclip?

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: No!

        paperclips are also useful for opening desk locks when the keys are inside the drawer

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Not so much a red herring as a pink sprat

    "so fast they can survive supersonic flight"

    [1] What has data rate ("so fast"?) got to do with surviving the stresses of a sonic boom?

    [2] What's special about these cables (apart from a supposition about latching tabs)?

    It would be really nice if both these questions were actually answered.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not so much a red herring as a pink sprat

      'Fast' as in 'secure', i.e the boat was tied fast to the mooring, my boot is stuck fast in the mud.

      The headline didn't mention data rates.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Not so much a red herring as a pink sprat

      [2] What's special about these cables (apart from a supposition about latching tabs)?

      Well, as the article says, they're used for special instruments:

      Those instruments will fly on an F-15 aircraft that follows X-59 test flights so will need to survive supersonic flight and the X-59’s shockwave.

      Me, I'd just have used WiFi between the planes.

    3. ssharwood

      Re: Not so much a red herring as a pink sprat

      Fair cop. I saw NASA's odd mention of networking, though to myself what's the most vulnerable part of a cable and tried to turn that into something amusing. Sorry if it ended up a little frustrating instead. FWIW I did look for the contract notice that would offer that detail (and maybe a $10k toilet kind of angle), but it was nowhere to be found - presumably either below the spend threshold for notification or not a new award.

  3. LogicGate Silver badge
    Coat

    No need to reinvent the wheel

    I suspect that we are only talking about manually assembling cables out of COTS parts. There are numerous mil-spec / aviation grade solutions for Ethernet.

    The most reliable would probably be to utilize an existing connector syystem with machined pins (which can be reliably hand-crimped. If RJ45 compatibility is required, then there are numerous rugged solutions that maintain pin compatibility. https://www.amphenol-socapex.com/en/products/connectors/rugged-ethernet-usb-display/rugged-ethernet-connectors

    Just do not ask what a single connection costs. Prices tend to go beyond eye-watering. However, if a broken off retaining tab can cost you the aircraft, then this is an investment workh considering.

    ..mine is the one with a de-pinning tool and a wire harness plan in the left pocket..

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

      Yeah, the price ratios are like

      bike part : car part : air plane part (and I guess MilSpec is another order of magnitude)

      water : whisky : single malt

      liquid N2 : He : He3

      1. LogicGate Silver badge

        Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

        Airplane part and MilSpec intermingle. Just do not mistake UltraLight part or General Aviation part for "real" aircraft part. Automotive Part is interesting. High part numbers press the part cost down. Quality is often very good. However, purchasing can be difficult (unless you plan to buy 10.000 units), and the part-specific installation tools can be eye-wateringly expensive, non-reusable and unobtainable.

        Hand-assembly (crimping etc.) can negate the quality advantage of Automotive Parts.

      2. Fursty Ferret

        Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

        >> liquid N2 : He : He3 : Printer Ink

        Fixed it for you.

      3. theModge

        Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

        I was astonished by how much the words "railway certified" add to the cost of absolutely anything

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

          And yet "railway certified" adds peanuts compared to "gaming". Just imagine how much the two combined would add!

          1. agurney

            Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

            And yet "railway certified" adds peanuts compared to "gaming". Just imagine how much the two combined would add!

            That would be "Marine Grade" then.

          2. Roger Kynaston
            Happy

            Re: No need to reinvent the wheel train games

            Hornby anyone?

    2. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

      Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

      "If RJ45 compatibility is required, then there are numerous rugged solutions that maintain pin compatibility. https://www.amphenol-socapex.com/en/products/connectors/rugged-ethernet-usb-display/rugged-ethernet-connectors"

      Or... you can buy mil-grade Ethernet switches that use MIL-DTL-38999 connectors without the special RJ45 inserts. I'm sure with NASA money available, one of those suppliers would gladly rework the firmware to whatever data protocols necessary.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: No need to reinvent the wheel

      well, when I was in the Navy I went to a soldering school where they taught soldering techniques according to NASA specs. You had to visually QA your work under a lighted magnifier, no 'pits' no 'tits' etc.. You had to use solder with mildly activated flux that was 63:37 (Pb:Sn) which has the tightest thermal range for the plastic region [meaning that you're way less likely to have a cold solder joint] and you used specific types of crimp connections when making cables, crimped with the correct tool, through-hole leads were bent in specific ways before inserting into the circuit board, yotta yotta.

      In short, it restricts you procedurally to constructing and repairing things in a manner that gets the highest possible reliability. In this case, it was for equipment used to control nuclear reactors, which had to stay running on a warship that might get hit by things that explode and send massive vibrations throughout the ship, potentially causing electronics to 'jitter' or even fail. The last thing you want is to have a nearby depth charge cause a reactor safety shutdown, leaving you without propulsion for a short period of time, and then NOT being able to start it back up again because it keeps shutting down when the system is shocked.

      anyway, similar requirements here for handling in-flight vibration and supersonic shock waves.

    4. tcmonkey

      What the hell...

      ...is a "Tactical cordset"?

      https://www.amphenol-socapex.com/en/products/connectors/rugged-ethernet-usb/rugged-ethernet-connectors/rj45-tactical-cordsets

      Must be a windup, Shirley?

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    WTF?

    What exactly is the problem these special cables need to overcome? I can't make it out from the article. Surely it can't just be a "cable that survives flying at over Mach 1" or one that "survives a sonic boom"?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What exactly is the problem these special cables need to overcome?

      Lack of newsworthyness? :-)

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      I've built items used in the International Space Station - one factor that is important in that environment is to demonstrate that the materials used in the cables, moldings, and connectors do not release any toxic chemicals under the unique conditions that may be encountered up there.

      1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

        No cadmium plating, no halogen-releasing PVC insulation, etc. Sounds like standard defense/aerospace design -- can't have similar issues in a hatches-closed armored vehicle either.

        (And robust, because you don't want them having to fix it in the middle of a battle; they probably don't have the necessary tools on-hand.)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Space

      I have network switches that regularly go into space and on missiles, both go well over the speed of sound, both have 38999 connectors but only for density reasons.

      In tests we use RJ45 versions without any problems. (They last about 4 weeks running 24/7 on a Level-5 vibration rig.)

      One of the cheap and cheerful distributers of 'patch cables' were actually supplying something that did conform to the aerospace specs at normal prices until someone tipped them off! (We had about 5 years worth in stock by that point :-)

  5. Dazed and Confused

    Noise meassurements from an F15

    Pah, who are they trying to kid.

    I got buzzed by a couple of pairs of F15s up in the Lakes a month or so ago. The noise sort of hits you like a sledge hammer and these ones weren't trying to go supersonic. The chance of hearing anything in the vicinity seems unlikely. Or maybe that's the point. This way they can claim the new toy is silent because they couldn't hear a thing.

    1. seven of five

      Re: Noise meassurements from an F15

      Unlike the 'hogs, which are scarily silent. Saw them much earlier than I heard them (caught the movement when they came over some trees) - ouf course I would have been deader than dead by then if I were a tank, but usually they do not prey on hikers...

      They still were rather loud when they passed, though.

      1. Dazed and Confused

        Re: Noise meassurements from an F15

        I've had the experience of not hearing fast jets until they're on top of you many times, or sometimes even before they are underneath you, which is much more fun. This was at the western end of Wast Water so not on the Mach loop. and at close to sea level so they were going over head for us, but they came up the valley well below the top of Yewbarrow and Middle Fell. Again it's not unusual to see military jets there, but this is the first time I've seen F15s and they seemed much louder than anything else 'veI heard there. Hearing them before they arrive might be down the sound being reflected around the valley as they were subsonic. The noise level goes up massively once you're behind them, but they were loud before.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
  6. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    Don't understand

    Speed doesn't have any impact on a cable's performance. Acceleration does, but the shock of dropping a bunch of cables on the floor before starting an install will probably be more stressful than the acceleration to Mach whatever. As someone above points out, there are already plenty of specs for military applications which would cover this. From my experience, anything that can survive the UK navy's gunfire shock and vibration specs can probably survive anything a supersonic jet can chuck at it.

    1. Chris G
      Trollface

      Re: Don't understand

      Are they implying that one end is still attached to the ground station so that the cable is very long and has to pay out at super sonic speed?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't understand

      The toughest grade for equipment I've ever heard of is "toddler-proof". Do Fisher-Price do consultancy work?

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Do Fisher-Price do consuting?

        Yeah, but under the brand names Serco and Capita.

        1. 0laf
          Pint

          Re: Do Fisher-Price do consuting?

          " Re: Do Fisher-Price do consuting?

          Yeah, but under the brand names Serco and Capita."

          Comment of the day to that man!

      2. Dave 126

        Re: Don't understand

        > The toughest grade for equipment I've ever heard of is "toddler-proof".

        Well, Sony and Apple used the physical connector from Nintendo's Gameboy link cable as the basis for the first i.Link / FireWire cable. Makes sense.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't understand

      Have things changed in the last 50 years? MIL-SPEC used to mean individually tested to destruction and unlikely to survive 10 minutes in the field.

      1. LogicGate Silver badge

        Re: Don't understand

        Mil-Spec connectors are very fine pieces of hardware.. Individually CNC machined parts etc..

        Attemps to keep Mil-Spec pin compatibility while lowering cost often involve the introduction of stamped connectors.. ..which takes away from reliability if you have to hand-crimp the connector.

        Automotive connectors, while able to withstand similarly rugged conditions (but not as low temperatures), often tend to lack sufficient mating cycles. Where Mil-Spec will give you 500 cycles, expect no more than 20-50 cycles in automotive (assembled once, never touched). Horses for courses..

        As for field-survivability: Nothing is infantry-proof, except, maybe, for a steel ball, 2 meters in diameter, made out of hardened steel. However, this they will instead manage to loose.

    4. Dave 126

      Re: Don't understand

      > Speed doesn't have any impact on a cable's performance

      In a high vibration environment, you want your critical cables to be held fast.

      1. Cynic_999

        Re: Don't understand

        High speed and vibration are two completely different things, largely unrelated to each other. There is far more vibration on a tractor moving at 20MPH than on an airliner moving at 600MPH.

      2. gypsythief
        Paris Hilton

        Re: In a high vibration environment, you want your critical cables to be held fast

        ...as the actress said to the bishop.

  7. thondwe

    So about the pilot then, or the passengers?

    So the cable needs to survive supersonic flight - seem to recall lots of people "survived" supersonic flight while drinking Champagne from actual glasses?

  8. John Robson Silver badge

    Ethercon

    Would seem to be a complete solution to the problem of vibration affecting the physical connector.

    Else hot glue...

    I would be more concerned that the little springs in the network switch which make contact might get bounced off their contacts for a moment, but again, a small plastic shim would likely suffice.

    1. theModge

      Re: Ethercon

      The problem with ethercon is that someone will inevitably need to plug it into a non ethercon hole, take the metal barrel off and then proceed break the plastic bit.

      ...Actually that hasn't happened to me for a while, since when I last worked with ethercon they could afford decent kit at both ends of the cable, but when I started out there was all to much of it.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Ethercon

        You can just use a plain cable - although it does require that you have a cable of the appropriate length, and access to both ends. I don't imagine that's a problem here. Also - who cares about the little tab on ethercon? The whole barrel locks the connector in place - doesn't it? I haven't had to replace any of my ethercon kit in a while...

  9. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
    Trollface

    It is soooo 20th century...

    What about 5G ?

  10. Chairman of the Bored

    Slow day in the NASA public affairs office

    See title.

    Want to be retentive? A dab of 3M DP-420 epoxy will do ya. AFTER you make sure the connection actually works. Don't forget that part... Almost sailor proof.

  11. Dave 126

    > SCHAMROQ

    What Sean Connery wears on his lapel for good luck.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Pirate

      Sean Connery

      Not now he doesn’t.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still be cheaper than Monster!

  13. Criggie

    Solution

    10base2 has a locking connector, and is documented in those "how you should cable a rocket" PDFs that are floating about the web.

    Prior art exists - and NASA wrote it.

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