HackSpace magazine

Space Shuttle Discovery Soldering Kit review

By Andrew Gregory. Posted

Learning to solder is a rite of passage for the aspirant maker, and it’s a journey that’s well worth undertaking. Most recommended starting points are small through-hole component kits, where larger components have leads which slide through holes to be soldered – and good target starter projects are often badges, or small electronic experiments which explore a useful electronic design or principle. This kit (£9), designed by Phyx and sold by Pimoroni in the UK, sits at the decorative end of kits but, rather than a badge, it is a small desktop sculpture!

The very neatly designed printed circuit boards (PCBs) slot and solder together to create this free-standing little desk model, based on the NASA Space Shuttle STS Discovery. The base has, on the underside, a coin cell holder (battery not included, but it’s a standard CR2032) and a switch. The power is routed through the sculpture to the three flickering LEDs which you mount on the back of the shuttle.

It arrives flat-packed and panelised into one PCB, with the small collection of components heat-sealed into the top section of the anti-static packaging. There are no instructions with the kit, but they are written up as a short list on the Pimoroni product page. It’s fair to say that if you have soldered up a few LED badges before tackling this, you probably won’t need the instructions anyway as it’s pretty intuitive how the boards slot together, and all the positive connections are marked on the exquisite PCB silkscreen so you can work out which way around components go.

The instructions say to solder the LEDs into the boards first, which makes far more sense than what we did, which was to add them after assembling the boards together. We wanted to see what the piece looked like before deciding what length and position to place the LEDs in!

To begin, you carefully de-panelise the PCB by gently bending the PCB sections to break the small perforated tabs that hold them in place. It’s optional but, next, you can use a sanding block (or a nail emery board is very good for this) to rub down the remaining bits of the perforated tabs. As we said, probably best to insert the LEDs now if you are new to soldering, or leave them until later if you are confident in your soldering abilities! With our panels ready, we first soldered the switch to the underside of the base and then the battery holder. Again, this is pretty obvious to place, as the battery holder is clearly outlined in the silkscreen.

With the base components fitted, we set about soldering the two parts that form the shuttle together. When you insert the shuttle upright board, you’ll see that there are large rectangular pads on both the upright and the horizontal surface which align at 90 degrees, and you need to solder a bridge across these to create both a conductive joint that is also a mechanical joint. It’s pretty straightforward, and actually suits a slightly wider soldering iron tip, which you probably have if you are a beginner with an entry-level soldering iron. Definitely solder just one side first, and then check the alignment of your panels. It’s quite easy to get them not quite straight but, until you solder both sides, it’s easy to readjust by remelting the solder joint.

With the shuttle soldered, we repeated the same type of solder connections to solder the bottom of the upright into the base, which again clearly marked the positive side, so you can be sure to get it the right way around. We then set the LEDs in place. Now that the boards receiving the LEDs were assembled, we used a blob of Blu Tack to hold the LED in place whilst we soldered. This is probably a touch harder than doing them first, but it allowed us to look at the LED placement in relation to the whole assembled shuttle!

Once finished, and with a flick of the switch, the LEDs put out a pleasing orange flicker, which gives a great representation of the shuttle motors. One thing that we find with all PCBs that have a white solder mask is that they can look a little bit stained after soldering, and so, we gave ours a quick clean-up using a cotton bud with some isopropyl alcohol on and it was restored to its lovely finish.

We imagine it won’t be too long until we buy the other kit in the same series, which is a model of the SR-71 plane.



A lovely little desk toy, suitable for beginners to soldering, and offering an alternative starter project to a badge. Excellent.

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