Author Archives: Chris Sigman


Several years ago when our president J was getting his PhD in rocket propulsion, he suggested the university look into using cheap, relatively easy to use programmable micro controllers like the Arduino for controlling small satellites like CubeSats. At the time, other micro controllers like the Beagle Bone Black (BBB) weren’t available.

Yesterday, J came across a Google Summer of Code project called BeagleSat, which is the same sort of idea that J had, to have an open source framework for building CubeSats.

Furthermore, if we were to do something like this today, we’d lean towards the BBB because of its power and versatility.

We’re very curious to see how far they can take this project. They published weekly status updates on their project web page, and it looks like there’s some cool work done, but also a lot more to do. We’re always happy to see documentation being reported on a regular basis, and it looks to us like this will be a great open source hardware project.

Apogee 2 In Review


First off, thank you everyone who attended Apogee 2 this year! From volunteers to people learning about Mach 30 for the first time, you all helped make it a success. The event went well, with new people getting a good deal of exposure to Mach 30 during our outreach event at NoVA Labs, and a lot of great planning work the following days at the board retreat. While this year’s event was different than last year’s, in a lot of ways it was the same. It was one part conference, one part public outreach, one part hackathon, and one part party.  Apogee 2 still had something for everyone.

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Apogee 2, Day 1 – Work Party and “bake-off” for 2 software development platforms.

Held in Arlington, VA at The Continental Condominium Skyview Conference and Party rooms, the event kicked off with a work party.  The objective was to try out two software development platforms, Kivy and LiveCode, by developing a graphic user interface (GUI) for the Shepard Test Stand. We spent about 2 hours developing a pair of prototype GUIs using each of the platforms.  We worked in a hackathon format and found that it’s a little too early for us to tell which one would be better to leverage. Kivy was perhaps quicker to develop back-end logic in, but LiveCode had a nice, easy to use interface for laying out things like buttons and other controls. We plan on looking into them both more!

We held our public outreach event, hosted by Nova Labs, on Saturday afternoon. It was a series of TEDx style presentations by the three Mach 30 Board members on the topics of Making, Spaceflight, and Open Source Development at Mach 30. In-between each session, attendees had the opportunity to talk with Mach 30 members and volunteers about the projects the organization works on, and generally socialize and pick our brains. It was great to see new faces, and spark some new ideas in other peoples minds. This was one of the most exciting parts of the conference for us.


Apogee2 State of the Organization and Volunteer Appreciation.

Saturday wrapped up with Mach 30’s president J. Simmons state of the organization address and Mach 30’s annual recognition event to honor the hard work of the volunteers. This year, we crowdsourced the nominations for the most noteworthy contributions, both team and individual. There was a lot of recognition to go around, and some themes that both volunteers and board members noticed. Coincidentally, J’s state of the org address touched on many of the same points. He ended the evening with a call to action for everyone associated with the organization to bring in one new person by Apogee III, next year. It would be a small thing for each individual to do, but it would mean a great deal to the organization – it would double our size, and extend our reach even farther.


Mach 30 Board Retreat Session

Apogee II continued with the annual Strategic Planning Board Retreat on Sunday and Monday.  The board used these sessions to review Mach 30 activities including the Perigee II event last January, and to reflect on what the organization did and didn’t do well.  This year the Board applied Agile methods during the retreat, continuing work started at Perigee II. Part of the reflection activity included identifying things we should do differently in the future. This retrospective was a very valuable exercise and we intend to do more of it. Our hope is to make planning and other board level activities more effective as we continue to adopt Agile methodologies.

Thank you again to everyone that helped make Apogee II a success, and special thanks to our Vice President, Greg Moran, for his hard work. He did most of the heavy lifting for planning the event, and it might not have happened had it not been for him.

Yavin Thruster Sprint 1

Mach 30 has started to use agile methodologies to manage its engineering projects, and the first of those to use an agile approach is the Yavin cold gas thruster. This last week, we completed our first sprint, and we’re all very pleased with the results.

For anyone that might not yet know about the project, it’s to develop a test stand connected to a source of pressurized gas, such as an air compressor, where different designs for the thruster can be tested. One of the aims for the project though is to develop and test new tools for future Mach 30 projects, such as CadQuery and our new Mathematics Tool Kit (MTK), a piece of software to make it easier to compile documentation around science and math proofs and analyses. We’re not only working to further develop these tools, but putting together a tool-chain for future design efforts. How this tool-chain works for Yavin is that we’re using MTK and a Python library to document and calculate aspects of the thruster such as wall thickness and nozzle shape. We can then create models with the same library in CadQuery, and export the model to be 3D printed.

In the first sprint, we took on 3 main items. The first of these was an export control review of the project, which can be found under the project’s Wiki on Open Design Engine. Second was a structural analysis of the gas chamber before the nozzle. The team generated a number of artifacts for this, including a document created with MTK detailing the analysis, a python library to support it, and an initial model created using CadQuery. You can see pictures of the model below, but the coolest part is that we printed it!

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This is just a proof of concept model though (it’s huge, and not an ideal size at all!). There’s a lot more work to be done! We have to produce another (or add to the existing) library to do the actual thruster design, and a number of other tasks.   Some work to do to make it so that CadQuery supports all the functionality we’ll need for making a good performing nozzle, but we also have a number of tasks ahead focused around testing.

For transparency, there’s one more item we had planned on doing, and that was performing a test calibration on a volunteer’s 3D printer.  Doing so helps us to build up information about how to calibrate other printers for printing future Yavin thruster nozzles. We don’t just intend for Mach 30 to print these, we intend for all sorts of people to do so, so we’re trying to make it as easy as possible on our end to print one of these.

We feel we accomplished a great deal for our first sprint, and we’re all very proud. If you care to hear more about our first sprint, you can check out our sprint review and retrospective here.

June 2015 Reports Hangout

This month, we continue our new round table discussion about what’s going on with Mach 30, as well as Space, Open Source Hardware, and the Maker Community. Mach 30 positions itself in the middle of these 3 communities, and this month we definitely talked about all of them. There’s space news, open source hardware community developments, and of course details about our ongoing efforts to make mankind a spacefairing civilization.

One of the big topics is the Yavin cold gas thruster, Mach 30’s Open Source Hardware project focused around the development of a number of tools and technologies that will enable not just greater projects here at Mach 30, but also in the Maker and OSHW communities at large. Another big topic is our upcoming Apogee II conference, our second yearly conference were we engage with the community about what we’re doing, what our plans are, and the community’s input and participation in that, from Space Enthusiast to Maker to Open Source Hardware fan. One particular point of note is our plans for doing a bake off of user interface development tools for projects, which are designed specifically with the maker community in mind.

There’s plenty more, so check out the ~30 minute video for more!

Many of these topics from this month will have periodic updates. Naturally they will be covered in the new and improved monthly reports hangouts at Mach 30, so subscribe to our YouTube channel to STAY TUNED!

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