Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Attempt 2 at an alternative driver for 800 Hz to the power supply module of the DSKY


If I had a decent NPN transistor that would be the most straightforward way to drive the circuit. With the virus lockdown, I can't go out and buy any parts but I may have something in the garage that would work. With a bit of hunting I located a 2N5551 and wired it up.

This is equivalent to the interface circuit in the Apollo Guidance Computer that provides the 800 Hz drive for the power supply. It is an NPN transistor through a 2K load resistor This restricts the current to a maximum of 2.5ma when tested with 5V but using the spacecraft power level of 14V it can sink up to 7ma, a tenth of a watt dissipation.

Up first was a direct test of the driver transistor delivering the appropriate 800 Hz signal at a few milliamps current, which is well below the max I want to drive the single transistor. It was breadboarded and hooked to the scope, with exactly the results I wanted.

Then I wired it to the power supply module through this driver circuit. The function generator gave me the 800 Hz square wave, then the driver transistor will sink the 14V to ground, after it passes through the primary of the first coil inside the power supply module.


For this test, I hooked the power supply output to a segment on the electroluminescent (EL) panel to provide a proper load. I wanted to monitor the output waveform and measure the voltage using the scope. I started with the potentiometer wires open to reflect the cabin lighting pot set to max brightness. I ccould then insert a fixed resistor or short across the wires to simulate various dimmed settings.

The segments were no brighter than before - pretty dim actually. Their wasn't enough oomph to light the fixed lines and legends with the standard input voltages of +14 and +28. I had to see what the output voltage looked like on the scope. It should be 800 Hz AC with an RMS value of about 275V.

The high voltage is isolated from the input side and spacecraft ground, thus the scope has to be grounded only on one side of the output. I turned on the test bench and observed the output waveforms. It appears to produce a reasonable waveform but a bit low, just as the previous circuit did.
800 Hz with 250V peaks, therefore below desired level
The math in the scope isn't doing well interpreting the RMS AC value nor the frequency since it isn't producing clean sine waves. Looking at the time between peaks of about 1.25 ms confirms that this is operating at 800 Hz. The peak voltages are a bit above 200V each way which, with sine waves, would be an RMS reading of perhaps 145V. With no segments active it jumped to 240V each way and an RMS equivalent of 170VAC, consistent with the dim illumination.

Since there seems to be excess resistance in the ground side of the EL panel, that voltage drop might be confusing the current compensating circuit in the output, where the supply could be working just fine. To test this, I left it disconnected from the EL panel and measured the output voltage. Since the peak to peak approached 480V, it shows there is some effect but not enough to account for the low output.

At worst case, I will have to work with the El panel in a darkened room to get acceptable brightness. There are two other possibilities to brighten this up. First, I could recreate the entire circuit in discrete components, ensuring I can reach the voltage targets that I want. Second, I could find a way to 'amp up' the power supply output. The discrete component alternative is quite hard because of the specially wound transformer that is used to ensure constant brightness with a variable number of EL segments illuminated.

I can pump a bit more out of the circuit by boosting the supply voltage to the power supply module, although it introduces the risk that I will exceed the max voltages of the transistors inside causing a failure. Because of this, I can't ratchet the voltages up too much, but I should be able to go up about 25% with some safety. This was designed to operate in a spacecraft which did have some transients and high side excursions in power, thus the transistors would not have been chosen right at the margins.

Bumping up the +14V supply to 17.5 volts and the +28V supply to 35 volts would implement my 25% boost.  I gave it another try, with 17.5V and 32V since my supply can't produce the full 35V.  The segment was noticeably brighter even without the supply generating the full 275VAC that it should.

Partially boosted voltages improved brightness
I am not sure of the cause of the anomaly on the positive peaks. I decided to reverse the connection just to see if the problem shifts or is a scope/measurement artifact. Indeed, the strange waveform flipped. This is definitely a characteristic of the module under test.

Scope leads reversed, symptoms also reversed

I need to pull out another power supply to inject the full 35V for my original brightening plan. This is not readily at hand but the current illumination is adequate for viewing indoors in normal room conditions.

Decent illumination level

Friday, March 27, 2020

An attempt to improve the output of the DSKY power supply module, attempt 1

Since the power supply was not delivering the target voltage even with boosted voltages for both the +13 and +24 inputs to the module, I decided to try a change in how I am delivering the 800 Hz reference clock input. If there was not enough drive in the method I first used, it could result in smaller waveforms with a lower peak voltage.


The 800 Hz signal is produced by a counter that ticks to alternate the binary state of an output signal. That essentially produces a square wave at 800 Hz. The type C interface circuit delivering that signal out of the AGC consists of a PNP transistor with its emitter at ground and a 2K resistor in series between the collector and the output pin.

Thus, it acts to pull the external line down to ground or let it float depending on whether the clock signal is on or off. Within the DSKY power supply, +13V passes through half of a center tapped transformer and out to the circuit I just described. Thus, 800 times per second it is alternately pulling 13V down through the transformer towards ground or letting the transformer pull up to 13V.


I set up a function generator to produce an 800 Hz square wave, 0 to 5V, which I fed into an interface circuit I had built for use with the restoration of the Apollo Guidance Computer we undertook last year. The surface mount transistor that I used on those interface boards were designed to drive very small currents for inputs to Arduino or similar devices. It was not engineered for higher current levels such as the use of the clock to drive the DSKY power supply.


I constructed a replacement to the interface circuit since my first approach may not have had enough current capacity to adequately drive the transformer in the power supply module. This was a 74F05 integrated circuit, an open collector chip which takes a TTL input signal (from my function generator) and whose output is hooked through a 2K resistor to the DSKY supply.


Before I put this into the circuit to drive the power supply module, I set up the open collector inverter with the 2K resistor pulling it up to +5V and observed the signal on the oscilloscope. The results show that this chip is inadequate, having too high an internal resistance.

Yellow is input square wave and blue is output pin of the inverter
As you can see the input is a well formed square wave between 0 and 5V while the pulled up output bobs over a very small range near 4.5V. Back to my parts bin to look for a more suitable buffer that will handle 13V with enough drive to kick energy into the power supply transformer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Investigating recreation of DSKY power supply circuit

Since NASA published the schematic and most of the component values for the power supply module that fits in the DSKY (Display/Keyboard) that is the human interface to the Apollo Guidance Computer in the Apollo spacecraft, it seemed possible to build a replacement.

I was loaned a power supply module from the block I DSKY, which is close enough to the version from the block II DSKY used with all the missions flown with people aboard. I did some testing of the pins, but the parts are encapsulated inside a metal rectangular solid which makes it infeasible to probe inside or repair anything that might be malfunctioning.

My first tries to power the EL panel used that original power supply module, driven by an equivalent circuit to the one inside the AGC that generates an 800 Hz square wave which drives the DSKY power supply. The module should produce at least 250V AC at 800 Hz, but at best I was only getting 85% of the target.

That lower level didn't seem to be enough to light the biggest single element in the electroluminescent (EL) panel - the COMP ACTY rectangle - but did give me glowing output on all other elements,. Building a replica power supply circuit would let me produce the full voltage, or debug and correct any issues I might find.
Block I DSKY Power Supply Module
The circuit seemed to be fairly straightforward. The 800 Hz square wave drove one half of a center tapped transformer primary, with the secondary creating a 13V AC signal. The AC signal was fed into a pair of transistors to drive the primary of a second transformer (T2), whose secondary windings boosted the AC signal to 24V but with more current flowing.. The 24V AC signal is fed into a third transformer (T3), whose output would be the full 250+ V that drives the LEDs.

The EL panel works by energizing a capacitor, the top plate being a transparent conductive material and the bottom plate having the shape of the segment to be illuminated. The insulator material luminesces under the high voltage, high frequency field. There are more than 150 elements or segments that can be energized, with the number varying as the panel displays different output values or blanks.

Because each illuminated element is another capacitor added in parallel across the power supply, it increases the load on the output. With more segments lit, the output voltage might droop, causing the EL panel to vary its brightness based on what is displayed. To adjust for this, the third transfer (T3) is a reactor whose core can be saturated or controlled by a DC current in a control winding. That change in core saturation varies the inductance thus changing the step up ratio of the AC windings of the transformer.

The clever circuit puts a load resistor in series with the high voltage, high frequency going to the EL panel. As load goes up, the current changes and the voltage drop across that load resistor will increase. A full wave bridge rectifier converts the voltage drop of the load resistor to a DC value which is fed into the control winding. The load resistor value was tweaked with each instance of the power supply to cause the output voltage to change the least as the number of energized segments varied.

Finding (or winding) a transformer with a core which can be saturated with the current produced from the load resistor is going to be essentially impossible. We don't have winding counts, stats on the core, manufacturer part number or even manufacturer name. One document hints that the part was bought from "Bush", but google is not my friend when I search for any sign of such a company or product.

I suspect that I would have to design a different circuit to produce an invariant high voltage across a varying capacitive load. It would have been much more straightforward and period authentic to build an exact replacement power supply.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The EL panel has a variant color, different from later production DSKY panels

The color of the panel is more blue with less yellow than we had expected. I dug through the NASA drawings that comprise the specification control documents used to procure the part. I did find that the first version of the drawing, 1006315, listed 5100 angstrom as the color. This is consistent with what I see on my panel.

EL panel showing the drawing number 1006315, without a revision
The back of the part has to include the NASA drawing number along with the revision letter. As you can see above, it is 1006315 with no revision. I judge this to mean that the part was a very early procurement.

The revisions of the drawing for the panel ranging from A to G all require that the light be emitted at 5300 A, thus being closer to the color we all expected.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Testing additional segments for operation after tweaking power supply


The voltage output was a bit too low. The panel expects over 250V at 800 Hz to drive to full brightness, but I was about 20% low even with the dimmer potentiometer completely out of the circuit. I tried increasing the +14V supply a bit, which gave me a very small but real increase in output voltage. When I varied the +24V supply, however, it seemed to make very little difference. I will look further into this.


I tried connecting the power to a number of the other segments on the panel, such as the signs for R1 and R3, some segments on digits in VERB and R2, with every segment I checked lighting just fine. My problems appear to be solely with the COMP ACTY feature, which only illuminated a small dot inside the COMP ACTY rectangle.

I was able to get the static elements to light up after I tweaked the voltage from the supply up a bit. Very pleased. Even if the computer activity segment is damaged somehow, I seem to have a decent display in all other particulars.
Static features lighting up!


I expect to wire up all seven segments of a digit and the two portions of a sign, hooking them to the relay module which in turn will be powered by the power supply module. I anticipate driving this an Arduino based setup allowing me to cycle through digits and the sign values. This will take a few days to wire up.

Improving connections and first testing of the EL panel


I crimped the sides of the connectors together to tighten their grip on the DSKY pins, which gave me enough security to complete some experiments. These connectors form a rectangular box, with one of the short ends missing, which allow me to bend those ends closer together forming a sort of triangular shape.


The Electroluminescent (EL) panel I am working with has two known problems. The front glass has a crack in it, whose effect on the internal structure and function is unknown. Also, the two ground pins 155 and 156 should be a virtual short to each other, as they collectively provide a ground connection across the entire face of the panel; these have a resistance of more than a kilohm between them.

I hooked my power up to pin 156 for ground and to pin 157, which should illuminate the steady features of the panel. These are three horizontal lines that separate the three five-digit register values, plus a rectangular lit box to highlight the text labels NOUN, VERB and PROG. No sign of a glow.

I hooked the power up to pin 154 which should light the larger rectangle under the COMP ACTY label. I saw a tiny green dot, probably where the wire is bonded to the segment, but no glow across the rest of the feature.

I then wired up two hot lines to a pair of segments on a digit of the PROG section and saw them light up. Not super bright but clearly working. This tells me that I need to do more investigation of both the delivered power from the AC supply and to test many other segments to see what lights up properly.
Lighting PROG digit 1, segments F and K

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Results of DSKY power supply testing and power-up


The equipment I set up on the bench for the test of the power supply was:

  • Signal generator set to produce 5V 800 Hz square waves
  • Oscilloscope to observe and measure the outputs of power supply and signal generator
  • My AGC interface board
  • Dual bench power supply delivering +14 and +28 to the DSKY power supply
  • VOM as a voltage level test

The interface board I build contains converter circuits between the Apollo Guidance Computer I/O levels and TTL/LVCMOS for use with modern technology. In particular, I had a circuit designed to hook to the AGC's D type inputs which was an open collector inverter gate with a pull-up to spacecraft signal levels (+28V). By leaving the 28V disconnected, it was a simple open collector that could be hooked to the DSKY power supply and accept a TTL square wave input.


In order to fit onto the Malco Mini-Wasp blade connectors on the power supply, I needed to create some wires with push-on connectors that almost fit. These don't grip really firmly but wedge on enough to make electrical connectivity. I had to crimp the connectors to many individual wires, then put heat shrink over the end to prevent shorting as the connectors can tilt and wobble.

Male Malco Mini-Wasp connectors, rectangular ended
Pin with a suitable rectangular shape to press over the Malco blade
Building jumpers between Malco pins, prior to heat shrink application


I hooked the bench supply of +14 and +28 to the pins of the DSKY power supply. The signal generator output was wired to my interface board, whose output was hooked to the DSKY power supply input for 800Hz pulses. A put a 10K resistor across the DSKY power supply contacts for the dimmer to represent a pot set to max brightness. The DSKY supply output pins were wired to my oscilloscope where I could measure the output being produced.

As a safety precaution, I made sure that my oscilloscope ground lead wouldn't damage either the DSKY power supply or my scope. This is a quick test with a VOM from the ground lead of the scope to the planned ground attachment point in the circuit under test.


First I looked at the waveform coming from the signal generator. All was good.

Output of my signal generator
Driving this 5V signal through my interface circuit with a temporary pull up to 14V gave me a clean output signal, ensuring that I had a proper input for the DSKY power supply.

Amplified to 14V swing by my AGC interface circuit
Next I checked the output with it hooked to the DSKY power supply with +14V applied to it.  This too looked good.


I then switched on the +28V and +14V levels, watching the output signal on the VOM and oscilloscope. My scope maxes out at 50V per division, which isn't enough to show a full 275V AC signal. Still, I could set it to measure the peak to peak and other values.  I was happy to see it developing a peak to peak well over 450 volts.

Output of the power supply at full brightness on dimmer control

I wired up the two ground pins of the Electroluminescent Panel to one side of the AC from the DSKY power supply and then applied the other side to the fixed lines and the Comp Acty pins. Nothing showed. Since I had an unexpected non-zero resistance between the two ground pins 155 and 156, I may have enough problems with the panel that it will be difficult to light it up.

Worse, the funky pins I am using are very difficult to keep connected to just the nine pins on the power supply, such that I kept losing the high voltage because one of the supply voltages, ground or the input pulses went bad.

It is time to rethink how I make the connections before I continue testing.