Author Archives: J Simmons

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.

techshop_logo

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.

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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

Mach 30 At the Open Hardware Summit

Mach 30 at the Open Hardware Summit

This is a bit late, but I still wanted to share what went down at this year’s Open Hardware Summit. I was excited to be part of the event because it was a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and share what’s been going on with Mach 30.

The key to “open source hardware for all” is high-quality open source engineering tools.

This message has been one of the key themes of Mach 30’s work in 2015.  Our technical projects have been shaped by this value, Jeremy has been connecting with a group from MIT to explore open source CAD, and I have been talking about this value on our blog and at the summit (check out the Open Hardware Summit presentation in the video below or in the slides on Google Docs).

At Mach 30, we use open source tools for all our projects. This is because we want to give everyone the ability to take part if they have the time and inclination to do so, and not be restricted by the tools they don’t have.

One example of such a tool is CadQuery, a Python-based parametric CAD language, which is actually inspired by JQuery. Some of the reasons we chose to use it over other open source tools: it’s easy to use, it has a powerful API, and it has an active development community. We like it so much, and we think it’s so useful, that we are actively contributing to the project.

Without high-quality open source engineering tools, we limit participation in Mach 30 projects to individuals and groups with access to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in proprietary engineering tools. Our mission of hastening humanity’s advancement into a spacefaring civilization is too important and too big to put these kinds of limits on participation.

That said, please join us in developing and supporting high quality open source engineering projects like the ones below:

If you want to learn more about our cold gas thruster, check out the Yavin Thruster project on Open Design Engine.

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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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