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About Ground Sphere: Past, Present, and Future

Mach 30 is currently building Ground Sphere. This is a ground station that will allow us (and you!) the ability to listen to satellites cheaply and easily. We’ve been working on Ground Sphere for some years, starting in 2013. Below is an abbreviated history of the project, although more details are available at Ground Sphere’s History Page on Open Design Engine.

Ground Sphere Satellite Ground Station Mission Patch

What is a ground station?

Ground stations are basically radio stations, except that they let people communicate with satellites by sending and receiving radio signals to and from Space. Sending signals requires a license, so Ground Sphere is designed to only receive signals from Space. Mach 30 is in the process of creating Ground Sphere MK3. It is an open-source ground station project, documented on our Open Design Engine. Ground Sphere’s ultimate goal is to allow those that use it to listen to the International Space Station as it travels above the Earth.

What kind of signals can you receive with Ground Sphere?

The various incarnations of Ground Sphere have had several capabilities, from listening to a specific satellite, to receiving Ham radio signals. There’s a wide range of frequencies that the Ground Sphere design can be tuned to, and we’re asking anyone interested to help us determine the best frequency to tune it to. You can tell us your thoughts in our minute long survey.

The history of Ground Sphere:

  • MK1 was our proof of concept. Its mission was to receive signals from Ham Radio Satellites, and when it made its on-screen appearance at Yuri’s Night in 2013 in Colorado, it was able to receive signals from as far away as California and Tennessee.
  • MK2 was the companion to SkyCube , and its mission was to receive “Tweets” from SkyCube, a Kickstarter CubeSat project from Southern Stars. Unfortunately, SkyCube had gotten essentially lost in space.

Current Ground Sphere MK3 development

  1. First, we wanted to review other maker ground stations, such as the SDR software evaluation based on “listening to satellites for $30”.  This software’s goal was to listen to signals, and allow them to be recorded. Unfortunately, we found that this article did not entirely allow for the reader to listen to the ISS for $30.
  2. Next, we want to make sure that the math of satellite communications from the ground is well documented, which we’ve started in a video by Mach 30 volunteer Aaron Harper. You can see that video below. Needless to say, there is a LOT of math here. It is important that our math be checked, and documented, so that others are able to recreate our findings and research.
  3. Beyond the basics of construction and documentation, we want to see what people might be most interested in using Ground Sphere for, and that means researching other possible uses. Examples include downloading images from weather satellites, but there might be more; tell us if you’ve got one in mind!
  4. Step four is to build the new prototype for a to-be-determined frequency. It could be weather satellites, Ham radio satellites, or something else entirely.

As Ground Sphere progresses, we will update our readers about how we’re able to grow and use the project.

Remember, you can be a part of projects like Ground Sphere by joining our weekly IPT Standup meetings, held on Google hangouts. You can join us on Tuesday evenings at 8:30pm Eastern Time by clicking here. We are always interested in meeting people who are interested in being a part of our mission to help all of Humanity reach Outer Space. To find out more about how you can become a Mach 30 Catalyst, please click here.

You can also follow GroundSphere on Twitter at

What would you be interested in using Ground Sphere for? Let us know in the comments!


Come See Apogee III, Aug 6 at TechShop in Arlington, VA

We are fast approaching our third annual Apogee conference, and this year it is going to be bigger and better than ever! Thanks to our venue sponsor, the DC-Arlington TechShop, we have a wonderful space to host Apogee. When you come by to check us out, you’ll find TechShop filled with all the open source and maker space projects you can handle, and on top of that a load of presentations about space and spaceflight hardware.


The presentations range from Mach 30’s 2016 project, Ground Sphere, to what it was like to participate in a simulated mission to Mars. The exhibit space also includes desktop satellite simulators, high powered model rocketry, live demos of the Shepard Test Stand. We even have a presentation on how to make rocket fuel from household ingredients (don’t try this at home!). See the Apogee III page for the full list of presentations and exhibits.

Apogee runs 10am – 4pm, Saturday Aug 6, 2016.  Tickets are on sale now at Eventbrite. Hurry, early bird registration (20% off admission) ends July 31.

We hope to see you there!

Mach 30 Needs Makers

Saturn V Documentation | Mach 30 Needs Makers

Saturn V Documentation

Mach 30 wants to publish the best documentation for open source hardware projects in the world. In fact, we must do this to achieve our mission of hastening the advancement of humanity into a space faring civilization. Why? Because space is hard and we don’t want to make it harder for other makers by providing incomplete or inaccurate documentation.

And you can help us without writing a single page of documentation. How? By making your own copies of Mach 30 projects and providing feedback (in the form of comments on project forums) about what worked, what didn’t work, and what was confusing in the project’s documentation.

Want to take it a step further?  Share pictures and videos of your creation on social media.  Or go all the way and join us for one of our weekly stand up meetings and tell us “in person” how things went. Bonus: you’ll meet other makers who share your passion!

That’s all it takes. You get to make cool things (anything related to space is instantly cool) and we get to find out what we overlooked in our documentation (from a misplaced comma to uncommitted source code to a typo in a part number). Plus, at Mach 30 we firmly believe in giving credit where credit is due. So we make it a point of thanking our friends and volunteers with everything from tweets to t-shirts to mission patches to community awards.

Ready to be part of our community of makers? Great, because the Mach 30 Integrated Product Team for Ground Sphere needs your help.  Right now we are testing out whether you really can download images from space (weather satellite pictures to be exact) for under $30.  Every step of our test is documented so you can dive right in and try things out for yourself.  This is a great opportunity to check out Software Defined Radios (SDRs) and satellite orbits.  And, once we wrap up Apogee III, we will turn our attention to using what we learned to design our third generation ground station, which will mean lots of small and medium sized projects to make and share.  Leave a comment below or on the Ground Sphere v3 forums to get started.

ad astra per civitatem – to the stars through community

Call for Presentations and Exhibitors @ Mach 30’s Apogee 3

Call for Presentations and Exhibitors @ Mach 30's Apogee 3

The team at Apogee 2

Save the Date!

This year’s Apogee 3 event will take place on the weekend of August 6th 2016 at TechShop-DC in Arlington, VA.

Mach 30 is preparing for our 3rd annual Apogee event to grow the Mach 30 community through in-person face-to-face interactions.  We are looking for individuals or groups who are interested and available to speak or exhibit. The event is scheduled for August 6, 2016 and we are would love to include any group or project to have representation from the local community. We hope that you know of folks who are available to participate!

Here are the specifics:
Why: To showcase your projects related to spaceflight with an emphasis on Making or Open-source processes.
What: Space-related Makerfaire-style event with exhibit booths and speakers/presentation program.
When: Saturday, August 6, 2016 from 10am-4pm
Where: TechShop-DC Arlington, VA
Registration: Free for 1 exhibitor or speaker, $10 registration/each additional person.
How: Let us know by using this Google Form within the next 3 weeks (no later than July 3, 2016) if you would prefer to exhibit or speak. The assignments of booth space and speaker schedule will be finalized on July 10, 2016.


Exhibitors will receive 1 free admission ticket, a 4×4 ft table (share a 4×8 ft table) with power and wifi. Additional resources may be available upon request.

Double Exhibitors will receive 1 free admission ticket, a 4×8 ft table with power and wifi. Additional resources may be available upon request.

Speakers will receive 1 free admission ticket, a 30 minute window (we recommend leaving plenty of time for questions) to present their story, and audio & video projection equipment. Additional resources may be available upon request.


Apogee is Mach 30’s annual gathering for its volunteers and fans.  One part conference, one part public outreach, one part Makerfaire, and one part party, Apogee 3 has something for everyone.  Mach 30 has long held that meeting in person is an essential part of our work and key to accomplishing our mission of hastening humanity into a spacefaring civilization.  So, join us at Techshop, this August for a chance to meet your fellow volunteers and the Mach 30 Board in person and to celebrate our shared passion for open source spaceflight.

Ground Sphere Mk III Sprint 1 Review

Ground Sphere Mk III Sprint 1 Review | Mach 30

Ground Sphere Mk III Mission Logo

Like we mentioned in the 2016 Annual Plan, Mach 30 is shifting from discipline specific project teams, like the #EngineerSpeak and marketing teams, towards working as a consolidated Integrated Product Team (IPT). The IPT merges the technical, business, marketing, and all other aspects of a project into a single focused effort. This approach improves cross-discipline communication and helps to incorporate feedback from all stakeholders.

The best way to experience these benefits is by observing the nature and quality of our team’s work. Fortunately, the use of Agile methods gives Mach 30 regular opportunities to review our team’s work in the form of Sprint Reviews. At the beginning of each 6 week sprint the Mach 30 IPT commits to accomplishing a set of tasks, called Product Backlog Items or PBIs. The team then holds a review at the end of the sprint to report on which tasks they completed and how those tasks were accomplished.

Our first IPT, which is working on a third generation of the Ground Sphere satellite receiving station, just wrapped up its first sprint. So, how did they do? Let’s start by looking at what the six person team committed to:

  • Marketing
    • Register social media accounts for Ground Sphere on Twitter, Instagram, Vine
    • Post the March edition of Launch Pad, the Mach 30 newsletter
    • Design mission logo for Ground Sphere Mk III
    • Post weekly IPT progress (aka – materials from stand ups, etc) on Mach 30 social media outlets
  • Engineering
    • Technical literature review of comparable systems (amateur and open source ground receiving ground stations)
    • Research and identify a source for link budget calculations (including test cases)
    • Reproduce the Listening to satellites for 30 dollars blog post results

This list is a great mix of both marketing and engineering work to create a foundation for sharing technical results and to prepare a refresh of the Ground Sphere design.  And the best news is that the team completed six of these seven tasks (everything but the link budget calculation research).  As it turned out the link budget calculation research was a larger task than anticipated, but the team still accomplished lots of good work on this task.  The team also took on a stretch marketing task: connecting with makerspaces to solicit help replicating Ground Sphere tests.  Fablab TacomaNova LabsCatylator Makerspace, and Hack Canton have all expressed interest.

So that means in the first six weeks of the project the IPT established the ground work for sharing Ground Sphere on the internet, began critical technical literature reviews, and conducted a live test of a similar system.  It turns out we were only able to replicate the circumstances of the blog post but not the results (as the Mythbusters would put it), but we are already working on replicating the results by modifying the test in Sprint 2.

Finally, since we value transparency at Mach 30, we recorded the Sprint Review so anyone can take a look at the work the IPT has done.  Check it out below.

Let us know if you have any questions or comments about the Sprint 1 Review or the Ground Sphere Mk III project in general.  ad astra per civitatem