prev next
Mach 30 Annual Report for 2016 cover

Hot Off the Presses: Mach 30 Annual Report for 2015

We’re happy to announce that the Mach 30 Annual Report for 2015 is here! Although this is our second publication, it tells the story of a year of firsts in several areas: we used agile methods to manage the Mach 30 engineering team, unified the development of open source hardware and open source engineering tools, and really pushed outreach and marketing to promote our vision.

Our vice president Greg Moran mentions in his opening message that 2015 was a “rebuilding year,” having suffered from having too many projects and too few volunteers to carry them out. We’re very proud of 2015 — as you’ll see in this report, it’s proof that not only can we recover from setbacks, it’s also proof that we’ve learned along the way and have developed into a stronger, smarter team.

Publishing last year’s report was a huge milestone for Mach 30, because it signalled a new level of maturity. This report is a continuing commitment to, and more proof of, our transparent accountability.

With the 2015 Annual Report, we hope to cement our commitment to open source practices in all aspects of our organization, not just our technical projects. In other words, we’re sharing our story with you in the hopes of convincing you to join our cause.

We look forward to sharing many more annual reports. Happy reading!

Download the Mach 30 Annual Report for 2015.

Mach 30 Annual Report for 2016 cover

You can also read about our plans for this year, the biggest priority of which is developing Ground Sphere. We just finished a sprint as of press time — we’ll tell you all about it soon. Stay tuned!

Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters

Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters

You may have seen “Visions of the Future,” a series of posters that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released in February. It’s a gorgeous, futuristic-but-in-a-retro-kind-of-way set of 14 images that promote various spots in space as if they were travel destinations for everyone (which, by the way, is Mach 30’s ultimate goal). We’re giving away free prints of these, so if you want one, you should join our contest by signing up for our newsletter.

In one of the posters, you are urged to pack for “The Grand Tour.” This is a trip which can only happen once every 175 years, when Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune align. It was the route the Voyager 2 spacecraft took in 1977, where it revealed details about the outer planets.

Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters

In another illustration, you’re invited to witness the incredible light show on Jupiter. David Delgado, creative strategist at JPL, said that they took inspiration from one the of the lead scientists on the Juno mission (which is set to get to Jupiter in July.)

Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters

The Mars poster envisions a future in which humans have colonized the red planet, with a history that “would revere the robotic pioneers that came first.”

Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters

Don Clark, one of the designers, said that they wanted to capture the whimsy that old illustrated travel posters used to have, when photography was not yet very advanced. “That’s how we approached these posters, to capture that charm, optimism and hopefulness, and this whole idea of wanting to go on these trips.”

Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters Contest: Mach 30 is Giving Away Free NASA Posters

Mission accomplished, don’t you agree?

Anyway, the important question is this: do you want one of these NASA posters so you can hang it up on your bedroom or living room? (Or wherever you like to hang your posters — we don’t judge.) You’re in luck, because we’re giving away five prints!

All you have to do is sign up for our newsletter between now and April 15th. After that, we will randomly pick five subscribers who will get to choose the poster they want, which we will then print on 11×7 paper, and mail to them!

Bonus: you’ll get an extra entry when you share the contest on social media (one bonus entry per network).

Please note that as of now, we can only pick winners from subscribers who reside in the lower 48 states. Unfortunately, Mach 30 isn’t able to afford worldwide shipping at the moment. That said, we’d very much like it if you still subscribe to our newsletter even if you can’t win. Remember, every little thing goes a long way towards making open source spaceflight a reality!

Click here to join our mailing list. Good luck!

Learn more about Visions of the Future.

Shepard Demo Sneak Peak

Hosting Open Source Hardware Projects on GitHub

In response to us posting some information about our 2016 annual plan, we got a comment with some great feedback from Benjamin Brink that touched on a lot of different things. One of those that we wanted to respond to in more detail was hosting Open Source Hardware projects on GitHub.

hosting open source hardware projects

GitHub is great for hosting software projects, and is a good tool even for hosting and collaborating on other text-based goods like books (you can see some on GitHub’s Writing Showcase). These could be quick, small pieces of software from a ‘hello world’ application that only prints a predefined message, to large, incredibly complex feats of engineering like the Linux kernel.

The difference between software or books and hardware is very important, though, and is why we feel GitHub isn’t a great tool for hosting open source hardware projects, or documenting and collaborating on them. This difference is that there’s a lot more items that make up what is really needed for a piece of hardware to be Open Source than text.

These items of the project that I’m talking about, for any project that is more complicated than a simple breadboard or a few components that are easy to see how they go together, are things like build instructions. Regardless of your expertise, telling someone how to build a physical thing from parts requires pictures. A good example of what I’m talking about can be found in our own Shepard Test Stand project.

hosting open source hardware projects

Shepard Demo Sneak Peak

There’s no way to describe in text how to assemble Shepard and expect people to be able to easily reproduce it. All the Open Source Hardware projects we’ve seen on GitHub either fall into the simple category, and even those that don’t, like KickSat, don’t have build instructions. KickSat sort of gets around this by using SOLIDWORKS to show the assembly, but this requires you to pay for SOLIDWORKS.

Now, you could put together build instructions into a PDF or another file format that isn’t just text and images, but this doesn’t make it easy to collaborate. What people working on Open Source Hardware, as well as those just using the designs to build their own need, is tools like a full-fledged Wiki, so that beyond just text and images like I mentioned, other media such as videos can be included all in the same documentation.

The needs don’t stop there either. As these projects get more complicated, and involve people with backgrounds that don’t include software development, there becomes a need to accommodate people that aren’t comfortable with version control software. These contributors might be mechanical engineers, or photographers, or any other discipline. Unless all of these people can contribute with gentle learning curves, the Open Source Hardware community won’t be able to grow as large or as quickly.

hosting open source hardware projects

Open Design Engine, where we host Shepard Test Stand and other projects, is our way of providing some of these capabilities in one place, instead of across a handful of different websites, making it easier and more likely for projects to be truly Open Source. In all openness and honesty though, Open Design Engine has its shortcomings. We haven’t had the resources to invest in making it great. It’s a minimally viable product, and gives us just enough to be able to make our projects able to be collaborated on and truly Open Source.

Ultimately though, different projects have different needs. Many projects, for a variety of reasons, are relatively simple, and GitHub might be enough. If the project is simple, I’d consider recommending GitHub, if only because of its polish. But hosting open source hardware projects need a better, more advanced environment than that offered for the software world, and that’s the whole point of ODE.

Mach 30's 2016 Annual Plan

Mach 30’s 2016 Annual Plan

Most of your New Year’s resolutions have probably faded into fond memory by now, so why not pick up a new one? We’re excited to share Mach 30’s 2016 Annual Plan because we’re constantly on the lookout for volunteers to help us make our dream of open source spaceflight come true. We may not have cookies (we’re not the Dark Side, and we don’t have the budget for it — yet), but we do have very cool plans ahead.

This year’s project list is divided into three categories: rocks, pebbles, and sand. Dr. Stephen R. Covey, entrepreneur and author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, tells a parable to explain this principle. Rocks are top priority, pebbles next, and sand last, the moral being that, “If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

The biggest priority on our list is developing Ground Sphere. This is a small, portable satellite receiver that you can use to eavesd— erm, listen to voice communications from the International Space Station. We also want to look into the viability of developing Ground Sphere as a product that we could possibly sell, which is why after building the prototype, we want to demo it so we can gauge interest.

Other rocks include the board’s annual strategic planning retreat during Apogee 3 (Mach 30’s annual outreach event), and recruiting both board-level and non-technical volunteers. We’ve realized that the organization would be served well by having a diversity of talent.

Onto pebbles: we’re continuing marketing activities because we want to at least double our reach this year. You may have noticed that we’re publishing more content than before and that we’ve restarted our newsletter.

Also in the pebbles category are the actual Apogee 3 Public Outreach Event, plus acquiring D&O insurance by January 2017.

Lastly, we move on to our sand activities. We’re supporting the Open Source Hardware Association by either becoming a corp member or being a sponsor at the Open Hardware Summit this year. Also, we’re publishing the Mach 30 Annual Report for 2015.

We’ve also categorized the projects into large, medium, and small, depending on how much time, money, and manpower we need to complete them. Looking at it in this way helps us determine if we’re doing too much or not enough. More importantly, it helps us assess if we can do the things that we really need to do, what with our (current) lack of resources.

Ground Sphere development and planning for Apogee 3 are considered large, while recruiting, the Apogee 3 event itself, and publishing the annual report are medium. Lastly, marketing activities and the OSHWA sponsorship are small.

Another way that we’re grouping the projects is according to whether they’re administrative or mission. Administrative tasks involve taking care of and growing the organization (recruiting non-technical volunteers), while mission tasks are those that fall in line directly with our mission statement (developing Ground Sphere).

You’ll notice that two-thirds of our tasks this year are admin. That’s because we want to focus on growth right now so we can do more mission work in the future.

We’ve figured out some time ago that Mach 30 is relevant to three communities: makers, space enthusiasts, and open source hardware enthusiasts. The numbers on the chart are the product of a quick calculation of how activities would impact these communities. As you can see, we’re trying to make sure that our activities are equally interesting to all three groups.

Projects also fall into three major areas based on Mach 30’s IRS-approved non-profit mission. As explained by Mach 30 president J. Simmons, “OSHW means supporting the OSHW community (because a rising tide helps all ships, think things like open source cad software and Open Design Engine). Ed is for education and outreach (because more people need to understand about space), and OSSHW is open source spaceflight hardware (that being our main thing of course).”

Last but not the least, in keeping with our efforts to recruit more non-technical volunteers, we’re putting more effort into visiting incubators and idea places. We want artists, writers, photographers, marketers, and business-minded individuals to join and help our cause.

Part of why we’re doing this is so we have a document to guide us through the year. It also helps keep us accountable as a team. The other part of why we’re sharing this with you is because we hope some of you will get excited enough to want to join us!

Check out Mach 30’s 2016 Annual Plan in infographic form below. Click here if you’re interested in volunteering, or email us at

Mach 30's 2016 Annual Plan

Mach 30's 2016 Annual Plan Mach 30's 2016 Annual Plan Mach 30's 2016 Annual Plan

paper sundial | Mach 30

Making a Paper Sundial in 15 Minutes

A few months ago, I came across an Instructables project for a paper sundial. Papercraft projects are some of my favorites, because all I usually need is basic elementary school supplies that are lying around the house. Some of them are probably even from when I was in elementary school! Even better: because we’re working with paper, it doesn’t hurt much when you mess something up. With how easy this is, it’s a great project for all ages, especially for kids or your inner Maker!

paper sundial | Mach 30

Completed paper sundial

You can find all the instructions and resources you need for this 15-minute project at Instructables. As a brief overview though, the writer created an online tool you can use to generate a PDF that customizes the sundial for your location, and whether you want it set up for summer or winter. From there, you print, cut, glue a little, and you’ve got your very own paper sundial.

There’s one thing that I found a little tricky though, that I thought I’d share so you can benefit from my experience. In step 4 where the paper sundial instructions talk about how to fold the gnomon (the piece that casts a shadow to show you what time it is), I found it a little unclear how the folds should look, and even glued the wrong things together.

No worries though, because like I said before: it’s paper, and you can just print out a second gnomon! Below is a picture of the northern-facing side of it, to give some extra perspective. Hopefully that makes things clearer for you if you ran into the same problem I did.

paper sundial | Mach 30

North side of paper sundial gnomon

Once I was all done, I noticed that my gnomon of my paper sundial wasn’t quite straight. The instructions point out some ways to avoid or fix this, but I went with a different route. When I cut out the dial, I glued it on some card stock (aka thick paper if you’re not familiar with it). So, to straighten out the gnomon, I just cut some of the excess from what I used for the dial, folded it in half, and glued it on. Perfectly straight now! In the picture below, the darker area of the gnomon you see is where I glued on the cardstock.

paper sundial | Mach 30

Sundial gnomon reinforcement

With daylight savings time mixed with winter weather consisting of a lot of clouds and snow, I haven’t been able to take it for a test drive. It’s a bit hard to catch days that are sunny and will therefore let the sundial cast more of a shadow, but I’m confident from some of my pictures that it’ll work perfectly.

I think I might even upgrade it to something out of stainless steel next time! This obviously would require more than some scissors and some glue (think Dremel angle grinder with a cutting wheel). If you’re a Maker, you might even try reproducing an antique sundial, such as those in the Liverpool Museum’s Collection

Finally, for some extra education: why are the hours in the dial not evenly spaced? After all, the Earth doesn’t rotate at different speeds throughout the day (although when you’re at work or in school, it can feel like it’s slowing down). The reason why is because this is a horizontal sundial, one that sits flat on the ground. Equatorial sundials, like picture below of a sundial in Beijing, have their dial aligned with the angle of the sun on the sprint and fall equinoxes. This makes it so that the shadow cast by the gnomon directly follows the motion of the sun, and thus the motion is constant. One more thing to know: on days residing on the winter side of the equinoxes, the top side of the dial is used to show the time, and the rest on the bottom side.

paper sundial | Mach 30

Equatorial sundial in the Forbidden City, Beijing. Picture from Wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed making a paper sundial, and maybe even learned some things. If you’ve gone the extra mile and customized your sundial, we’d love to hear about it (or even see it!). Post a comment here, or even better, show us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or another social media site of your choice.