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Jones Boys’ Rocketry

As Open Source Spaceflight Hardware (OSSHW) developers, we love to see other people building, modifying, remixing, and using our designs. In fact, we believe that the “Prime Directive” of Open Hardware is that it must be reproducible. That’s why we got so excited when we were contacted through Open Design Engine by John and Christopher from Jones Boys’ Rocketry. Christopher was working on a rocketry project for school, and was attempting to get a copy of our Shepard Test Stand thrust measurement hardware working.

John and Christopher

John and Christopher in February of ’08

Having someone build your Open Hardware has another advantage – you find more bugs and design flaws. The more people build and use your hardware, the better it gets. Our work with Jones Boys on Open Design Engine was no exception. They found a couple of bugs in our software, and their work brought about some operational improvements that we had glossed over because we’re so used to the hardware.

Christopher Testing the Shepard Hardware

After about two weeks of back-and-forth work, John and Christopher were able to get a successful data capture with a live engine.

Jones Boys’ Test Firing

Christopher was able to collect and analyze data from various motor fuel grain configurations and assembled everything into his science fair project display.

Christopher’s Display

Christopher took his display to multiple science fairs, and did extremely well. He was in 9th grade when he competed, and in the regional ISEF Science Fair, took first place in physics for his group. After that he went on to win second place in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics fair, which included a $100 cash award and a 3 day workshop at Goddard (I’m very envious). He also got an honorable mention from the USAF Office of Scientific Research.

Christopher Explaining His Project at the Science Fair

Congratulations to Christopher for doing a great job, and thanks to him for using Mach 30 hardware. We’re always excited to work with people who want to build spaceflight related hardware without starting from scratch. If you’re interested in building a rocket motor test stand or satellite receiving ground station, please feel free to contact us. We’d love to talk with you.

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Testing for Catastrophic Capacitor Failure

Ground Sphere Mk2 PrototypeSometimes what would appear to be a great idea turns out to be not-so-great. I had a concept of bedding the Software Defined Radio (SDR) and pre-amplifier for the Ground Sphere Ground Station in Greatstuff foam to make it more resilient to shipping and other mishandling, similar to the way delicate equipment is shipped in a two piece conformal foam mold.

Jeremy Wright asked a very simple question that I had not considered… what would happen if something electronic fried? That’s not entirely true… I did think of that, and so I selected Greatstuff Fireblock. Then he asked “Did ya test it?” The simple answer is no, I had not.

ODE Project Spotlight: Photosynq

Back in March, we had our first Open Design Engine (ODE) Project Spotlight, a Google+ Hangout where we talked with the guys behind Photosynq. The project is aimed at bringing data collection about the health and growth conditions of plants out of a few greenhouses and into the hands of crowd-sourced researchers everywhere.  In our hangout, we not only talked about what Photosynq is, but also how the project developers are using ODE and other tools to manage the project. You can watch the video of the hangout through YouTube:

We got a lot out of speaking with Greg and Robert.  It was great to learn how others are using the tools available in ODE, but we were especially excited to learn about some of the technologies they were leveraging.  Jeremy and I found the data analysis tools they’ve developed, with some 3rd party libraries, something great that we might be able to leverage for the Shepard Test Stand.

We hope to have other Project Spotlights with other projects hosted on ODE in the future.  If there’s one in particular you’d like to vote for, please leave a comment! Thanks again to the guys at Photosynq for spending the time to hang out with us and talk about their project.  You can learn more about Photosynq on

The Front Range Open Source Hardware Symposium

Front Range Open Hardware Symposium FlyerAfter a successful “hail mary” push to get the satellite simulator working, software installed into the borrowed Windows 7 laptop, and testing the Ground Sphere Mk2 prototype, we left Walsenburg around 10am on Thursday, heading to Boulder for the Front Range Open Source Hardware Symposium.  Attending as presenters rather than just attendees, We got the opportunity to show folks what we think open hardware is all about.  Congressman Jared Polis was  there as well as some of the companies that do Open Source Hardware (OSHW), such as SparkFun and others.  This was too good of an opportunity to pass up showcasing Ground Sphere, the Cubesat ground station receiver that we’ve been working on for months as a collaboration between Southern Stars and Mach 30. (more…)

The story of Mach 30 – Part 3: Mach 30 Is Born

This post is part of a special series celebrating the origins of Mach 30 in recognition of our fifth birthday.  Read the beginning of the story in part 1 and part 2.

Bench Top Satellite from AFIT Coursework

Bench Top Satellite from AFIT Coursework

Thanks to Maureen’s gift of my first Moleskine notebook and many discussions about its content, the central themes of Mach 30 started to come together.  With a clearer vision of what I was proposing as a path to sustainable space exploration, I managed to convince Maureen, Andy, and Bekah to help me make my dream a reality. And the four of us became the first leaders of what was then the Space Council, and would later become Mach 30. At first, not much changed. We met infrequently (quarterly or when someone had an idea to share, and that someone was usually me), but we could not get any traction on how to go from my notebooks and a few meetings to something more concrete.

In the mean time, I applied for the graduate program at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and Maureen and I moved to Dayton. Once we got there, I started to feel out the faculty and some local professionals to see how our ideas sounded to members of the aerospace industry (by then, we were already incorporating group work into the ideas of the Space Council). And, unsurprisingly, the results were disappointing. No one who could be considered part of the establishment could wrap their head around the concept of non-profit, open source space exploration. In order to not rock the boat at school too much (I did still need these people to support me long enough to get my masters degree), I became more selective in who I shared these ideas with.

As luck would have it, in the fall of 2008, I took a satellite design class with Greg. This was the first time we met. He was still a Lieutenant and was taking classes at AFIT part time during his first tour in the Air Force. I can still remember the day I first told him about the Space Council. We were working in the labs running a day long thermal vacuum test on a small bench top satellite, and had nothing but time to kill.  Being two geeks obsessed with space exploration, both professionally and personally, it did not take long for us to start talking about what got us interested in space.

Slowly but surely, we crept toward what in some ways could only be considered heretical ideas. NASA and the Air Force were not going to bring us into a spacefaring future in our lifetimes. We both desperately wanted to go into space, and the only way to do so was to build our own space ships. But how could that ever happen?

We needed to think outside the box.

Somewhere during the conversation, I realized Greg was a kindred spirit, and so I started to tell him about the Space Council. In those days it took me a long time to even get that far in a conversation. And I ran out of time before I could get into the whole story. But, Greg was intrigued, so we agreed to meet for lunch later that week. I believe it was over smoothies and sandwiches. And over lunch, I gave him the whole spiel. After nearly and hour, he was asking how he could help, and I invited him to a meeting.

It turns out, Greg was just what we needed. He has a very no nonsense, get things done attitude and almost from day one he pushed for incorporating the organization and applying for 501c3 status. It’s amazing what incorporating and having to actually run an organization will do for encouraging people to get things done. By January 2009 we had become an Ohio not for profit and Mach 30 was born.

J. Simmons wishing Mach 30 a Happy Birthday

J. Simmons wishing Mach 30 a Happy Birthday

So, now we are five years in, and I couldn’t be more thrilled at our progress and our future.  We have a website dedicated to hosting open source hardware projects, a strong and very active task force to address export controls, and two very exciting open source spaceflight hardware projects (Shepard Test Stand & Ground Sphere Ground Station).  And later this year we will be inviting our volunteers and supporters to join us for a multi-day planning and celebration event we are calling Apogee (stay tuned for details).  Here’s to another five years and more!  Many, many thanks to all of those who have helped get us to where we are today and to those who are helping build the future of Mach 30.

You too can help build the future of Mach 30.  Show your support for open source spaceflight by joining the Catalyst Club and then helping spread the word about Mach 30 and its programs on social media and at your local makerspace/school/scouting troop.

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