J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

I like this proverb, especially as it applies to Mach 30. After all, our ultimate goal is to turn humanity into a spacefaring civilization, and you can’t really go farther than space.

Of course, such a lofty dream requires all the help it can get, and so one of Mach 30’s goals is to build relationships, and ultimately partnerships, with groups which share one or more aspects of our mission. One such group is the Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS), a student organization at Portland State University dedicated to building and operating open source rockets (like we do).

I’ve wanted to visit PSAS ever since I first heard about them through our social network. So, when I met Nathan, one of the PSAS advisers, at the 2015 Open Hardware Summit, I arranged a visit for the next time I was on the West Coast for work. Happily, things worked out for a trip at the end of October. What follows is a little travel log of my visit.

Getting to PSAS

I took the train down from Seattle to visit PSAS at the end of a business trip.  The PSAS crew were great hosts. Nathan and Andrew came to pick me up at the train station and then took me out to dinner at a local pizza joint which makes its own fruit sodas.

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

Arriving in Portland

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

Dinner with Andrew and Nathan

Every Tuesday night, the PSAS crew meets to review current events in space, share project updates with each other, and work on their projects. I had the fortune of being able to make my visit work out on a Tuesday night, so I was able to meet the whole PSAS team. After the formal part of the meeting, I sat down and talked open source with Theo and Jamey, two PSAS team members. They were intrigued by our use of agile methods in open source hardware development. We also talked about replicating each others’ work to help ensure project documentation is complete at both PSAS and Mach 30.

The PSAS Rocket Shop

After chatting with Theo and Jamey, Nathan stopped by and asked if I was ready for a tour of the facility. That tour ended in the home of PSAS’ rockets. I am not sure what they call this lab, but at Mach 30, this is what we call a rocket shop. I was immediately drawn to their current rocket, inspecting details like the active roll control system. As I continued to look around, I saw many trappings of rocket culture, including the PSAS version of the Rockets of the World poster (in this case the rockets of PSAS). This is such a great space — I could live here.

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

Welcome to the PSAS Rocket Shop

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

PSAS Roll Control

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

PSAS Rocket Poster

Latest Projects @ PSAS

After I had finished looking around, the PSAS team showed me two of their current projects:  a carbon fiber body for their next generation rocket and a mechanical system for separating the nose cone as part of the recovery system. Nathan and I agreed the PSAS carbon fiber process is a great example of a project that should be replicated to verify the documentation is complete.  We will have to see what we can do about that. The PSAS team also demonstrated the lab prototype of their new mechanical separation system (be sure to check out the video).

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

PSAS Carbon Fiber Body Sections

14 PSAS Prototype Nose Cone Separation System Demo

PSAS is also working on a 3D printed cold gas thruster system (the Mach 30 volunteers working on Yavin were very excited to hear this news when it hit Hackady). So, of course I couldn’t leave without checking that out. Their cold gas thruster is part of an RCS system for use in roll control. Look at how small the thruster module is in the photo of the thruster cross-section.

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

PSAS Cold Gas Thruster Pod

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

Cold Gas Thruster Cross-Section

PSAS Mission Control

Toward the end of the visit, Nathan fired up the rocket’s flight computer and the mobile mission control and demonstrated their web-based mission operations software. I was particularly interested in the web-based user interface. Mach 30 did some quick prototyping of user interfaces for our test stands (which require similar controls and feedback) at Apogee II, but we did not include web-based options. Between some things I have seen in maker robotics and the PSAS mission control, I think we should add web-based interfaces to our list of technologies to consider.

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

Nathan Demos PSAS Mobile Mission Control

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

PSAS Mission Control Uses Web UIs

J. Visits the Portland State Aerospace Society

PSAS Mobile Mission Control

One more quick comment on their mobile mission control: it is built around an Ikea desk screwed to a base with some casters. I think that is a very clever hack. The rest of the mission control system consists of a low-power PC running Linux and three mounted LCD monitors.


As you can see, I had a great time visiting PSAS. I took more photos than are shown here. If you want to see the rest of them, check out the Flickr album.  I want to thank everyone at PSAS for showing me around and making me feel welcome in their space. Special thanks go out to Nathan and Andrew for helping me coordinate my trip and getting me around town.

All of us at Mach 30 love visiting groups involved in open source spaceflight. Are you part of a group or know of a group we should visit next? Leave a comment below and tell us all about them.

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