Author Archives: Greg Moran

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.

The Mach 30 Guide to ISS Tracking (And Sharing It)


Example ground track of the ISS, from

Did you know that the International Space Station (aka the ISS) typically flies over your head about a half dozen times every day? More importantly, did you know that you can actually see it happen with your naked eye?

Admittedly, you can’t always just look up and see it whizzing by. There are two reasons for this. The first is because the sky is too bright during the day. Second, during the night, all the Earth’s satellites are in its shadow. There are, however, two small windows each day in which it is possible to see the orbiting satellites flying overhead. These windows occur during the “terminator conditions”. Sadly, they have nothing to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They do, however, have everything to do with the transition from day to night.

The "terminator line" is the region on Earth between daylight and night time.

The “terminator line” is the region on Earth between daylight and night time. PHOTO CREDIT: Image by Norman Kuring, NASA GSFC, using data from the VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP.

A terminator, also called “twilight zone” or “gray line,” is a line that separates the day and night sides of a planet. In other words, “terminator conditions” simply mean sunrise and sunset. During these periods, the Earth’s satellites come out of the shadow and are able to reflect the sun’s light. Besides that, the sky is lit up just enough to make bright objects visible, but not so much that they’re drowned out.

The weather and sky conditions also play an important role in how well you are able to see the ISS as it flies over.  Obviously, you won’t see anything if it’s cloudy, and you won’t want to go outside if it’s too cold. Therefore, you want to be smart and plan ahead. You can get a weather forecast anywhere, but “sky conditions” are a little harder to find. Sky conditions determine two things: cloud cover and the probability of rain. You also want to know the moon’s current phase because that affects how well you can see at night. You can check out the Sky Charts from Clear Dark Sky to make sure.

BlackfootCSK from

Clear Sky Chart — Sample forecast of “seeing conditions” put out by

Basically, there are three things you need for your ISS tracking project to be successful:

1.) Know when and where to look

2.) Use a recording device

3.) Post it online and tag Mach 30

Let’s dig a little deeper into the details, shall we?

1.) Know when and were to look. In general, just before dawn and just after dusk are the best times to look. Several websites will calculate the exact times for you, and most will also give you specific directions in which to look. Here are my personal favorites:

Heavens-Above. This site is the most technically accurate and computationally full featured. This is best if you are comfortable with tech and have a basic understanding of astronomy. Besides the ISS, it has a ton of other satellites that you can track.

NASA’s Spot the Station. Probably the most user-friendly option — it is NASA’s ISS after all, which means they have the best resources.

Satellite Flybys. Just enter your zip code and voila! It’s not the most accurate, but more than good enough to get you looking in the right direction.

ISS AstroViewer. Of all the sites on my list, this has the least features. It’s not very complicated, but it still tells you when and where to look. All you need is to input your city name.

2.) Use a recording device. Like we said, the ISS is usually bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, and therefore a decent quality camera or even some camera phones will be able to see it. Of course, the better the camera, the better the quality of pictures and video that you can get. If you can get your hands on an SLR camera and some good telephoto lens, even better. If your device allows it, use “low-light” or “nighttime” mode. If you’re using a DSLR or manual lenses, adjust your apertures, ISO settings, and exposures accordingly. Long exposure photographs will produce a “streak” as the ISS flies through the frame. 

Flickr user Paul Williams via Creative Commons

PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr user Paul Williams via Creative Commons

You’ll also want to use some kind of stationary object to steady your camera, like a tripod or luggage rack of a parked car. This is especially important when you’re using telephoto lens or low light settings, because your device will be much more sensitive to movement, and therefore more likely to blur. The more versatile the mount, the better.  The ISS doesn’t hang around in any area for vary long, so get ready to readjust the field of view as the station moves across the sky.

Trust me, you’re going to get excited and want to gasp, and point, and do a little dance when you spot the iSS (or is that just me? No, it can’t be). So again, plan ahead and set the camera up early, leaving you to enjoy the event without worrying about messing up the shot.

3.) Post online. All that hard work and success deserves a little recognition, and we at Mach 30 would definitely love to see what you get. Just post it on your favorite social media site (or all of them, because why not), and tag us. Use @Mach_30 on Twitter, @Mach30 on Facebook, +Mach30 on Google+, Mach30-blog on Tumblr, and Mach 30 on YouTube. Then you can brag about your ISS tracking skills!

Have fun!

Mach 30 ISS Tracking - ISS flyover

PHOTO CREDIT: Greg Moran, cerca 2010 in Dayton, OH via Creative Commons.

Mach 30 Reports Hangout for May 2015

What was Mach 30 up to over the past month? Find out with the May 2015 Reports Hangout.  You may be familiar with the (not so) new round table discussion format where volunteers discuss current events in space, making, and open source hardware.

This month, we reminded everyone why there was no Report’s Hangout in April and mention a few topics that we would have covered if there was: the 2014 Mach 30 Annual Report, Mach 30’s plan for the remainder of 2015, and introduction of the Yavin Cold Gas Thruster & the Apogee 2 Event.  Then we dove right into all of the current events regarding rocket, launch, and space-related events.  Finally, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope in a very Maker-y way…  Check it out the video below to see how!

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!

Hot off the presses: The Mach 30 2014 Annual Report

We are proud to announce the publication of Mach 30’s 2014 Annual Report. This publication is Mach 30’s first annual report.  It highlights all the great stories from last year. Publishing this report is an important step for the organization because it signals a new level of maturity and demonstrates our continued commitment to our our open source values.

While it’s not a legal requirement, most established nonprofits publish annual reports to share their accomplishments, successes, works in progress, and project close-outs while setting the stage for the future plans and operations. As Mach 30 matures, we want to follow this best practice. More importantly, documenting our work is at the core of Mach 30’s values including transparency and the use of open source methods, even at this organizational level.

This report covers our progress in open source spaceflight hardware, our first conference, our contributions to the Open Source Hardware movement, and looks forward to the work coming in 2015. 2014 was a momentous year full of firsts, and this first annual report is one more milestone along our journey. We look forward to many more to come.

ad astra per civitatem

Gravitas at Mach 30

Gravitas (n.) – An ancient Roman virtue that denotes seriousness and dignity. It encompasses the depth of knowledge and/or personality that comes with experience. A very old word, but a modern circumstance.

So, how do you decide who’s got it all together in a field of endeavour as broad as ‘Space’? In any situation, you look for the survivors. Those who’ve been in the ‘game’ the longest with the most success. In something as new as the Open Source Space Movement, it can be a little more difficult. This is because a good web presence or a flashy marketing video can imply credence, sometimes more than actual content can. You have to dig past the ‘vaporware’ to find the real foundations. Another telltale sign is the language. Not the difference between German or Swedish or English, but the language of the non-tech, the space enthusiast, and the astronautical engineer.

Open Source is a confusing maze for newcomers. It is a difficult paradigm to wrap the brain around when all of your existence has been cocooned in a proprietary existence. Add “Space” to that and life gets interesting. Out of the 754,000,000 hits on a search engine, where do you start? What values, what gravitas do you look for? How does this relate to Mach 30?


Here are some of the things that we have done to promote gravitas.

Organizational maturity:

  • Mach 30 is a 501(c)(3) public charity. We’ve built a solid foundational base on which we established the organization, with the IRS paperwork to prove it
  • Strong business processes including openly shared documentation, meeting minutes, strategic plans, etc.  These provide transparency.
  • We seek out like minded organization and work with other non-profits, makers spaces, government entities, and the broader aerospace industry.

Technological stepping stone approach

  • Being biased towards mature technology means we can build and test now.
  • Having learned from the misatkes of others, we avoid the “death spiral” of giant development projects that will cost large fortunes.
  • Pursuing a technology “Road Map” development plan instead of jumping-in to shiny and fun projects
  • Tackling the true barrier to safe, sustainable, routine, and reliable spaceflight:  Namely affordable and reusable spacelift.

Open hardware development and Open Design Engine

  • True open source hardware projects (space-related or otherwise) need to share their WHOLE project, from inception to disposal.  Mach 30 does this on ODE.
  • In fact, Mach 30 is responsible for the development and operations of the because we identified this as an unfulfilled need, then filled it.  
  • Mach 30 conducts its work using open systems engineering processes.  Open source hardware development with distributed collaboration is different, as we’ve learned from past projects.

Identified need to deal with Export Controls, ITAR and more

  • Working to understand Export Controls
  • Having an Export Control Task Force
  • Meeting regularly to expand our knowledge and compliance of Export Controls

Each of these works combine to build gravitas. We’ve been at this for four years. We ask ourselves these questions frequently, “Are we doing this right?” “Are we true to our vision?” “Is this right/correct/needed?”. We strive to complete our goals. We work to make our little corner of the Open Source Space Movement a little better each day. We don’t have all the answers, but we are willing to share what we know.

Mach 30 is gaining gravitas, little by little. Each conference we attend, every event we hold, and every failure we review and improve upon adds to that weight. We are by no means perfect, but well will continue to work towards bringing humanity into a spacefairing civilization.

~ ad astra per civitatem ~
to the stars through community

Related Articles: