A Cyberdeck Built for Hacking Satellites

Gabe Emerson designed this cyberdeck to accommodate experiments with radio and satellites.

When William Gibson introduced the cyberdeck concept in Neuromancer, he didn’t intend to create a badge of cyberpunk aesthetic merit. In the Sprawl universe, deckers used their devices as hacking tools and though that certainly resulted in some pretty awesome imagery, the cyberdecks were utilitarian in nature. The real-world cyberdeck community doesn’t need to adhere to such restrictions, but it is refreshing to see a cyberdeck built to fulfill a genuine hacking need. That is the case for this cyberdeck designed to accommodate experiments with radio and satellites.

No, this cyberdeck will not somehow make it possible to commandeer a spy satellite or direct a fictional orbital space laser. What it does do is give the user the ability to adjust the direction of a parabolic antenna (a separate project) and monitor a range of radio frequencies — including microwave. When combined with public satellite tracking information, this cyberdeck lets a user receive satellite transmissions and use those raw signals however they wish (legally, of course). It also has potential for many other radio applications.

Gabe Emerson, of the saveitforparts YouTube channel, took design inspiration from the luggable computers of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. All of the components fit into a Pelican case, with the keyboard in the lid. Emerson was careful not to drill any holes in the case walls, so it is still weatherproof when closed up. Laser-cut and 3D-printed parts hold the electronic components in place within the case shell.

Everything inside connects to a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, including the keyboard and an official 7” Raspberry Pi touchscreen. Power comes from portable battery packs, which fit into a 3D-printed slot so the user can swap them out when necessary. Emerson added a bunch of switches, USB ports (through a hub), a card reader, a USB-to-serial adapter, and a whole lot more.

In the video, Emerson demonstrates his prototyping process. That is interesting, as it relies on trial-and-error, photos, and tracing, rather than precise measurements and traditional CAD software. When combined with 3D models from the community, Emerson was able to achieve respectable results.

The finished cyberdeck looks great and pairs perfectly with Emerson's tracking dish. He was able to use that to “scan” around and create an image of microwave sources in the area. And if you were lucky enough to attend Open Sauce over the weekend, you might have seen Emerson using this cyberdeck there.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Proud husband and dog dad. Maker and serial hobbyist. Check out my YouTube channel: Serial Hobbyism
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