Category Archives: Community/Partners

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.

Details:

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.

Shepard Rocket Motor Test Stand | Apogee III | Mach 30

Hosting Open Source Hardware Projects on GitHub

In response to us posting some information about our 2016 annual plan, we got a comment with some great feedback from Benjamin Brink that touched on a lot of different things. One of those that we wanted to respond to in more detail was hosting Open Source Hardware projects on GitHub.

hosting open source hardware projects

GitHub is great for hosting software projects, and is a good tool even for hosting and collaborating on other text-based goods like books (you can see some on GitHub’s Writing Showcase). These could be quick, small pieces of software from a ‘hello world’ application that only prints a predefined message, to large, incredibly complex feats of engineering like the Linux kernel.

The difference between software or books and hardware is very important, though, and is why we feel GitHub isn’t a great tool for hosting open source hardware projects, or documenting and collaborating on them. This difference is that there’s a lot more items that make up what is really needed for a piece of hardware to be Open Source than text.

These items of the project that I’m talking about, for any project that is more complicated than a simple breadboard or a few components that are easy to see how they go together, are things like build instructions. Regardless of your expertise, telling someone how to build a physical thing from parts requires pictures. A good example of what I’m talking about can be found in our own Shepard Test Stand project.

hosting open source hardware projects

Shepard Demo Sneak Peak

There’s no way to describe in text how to assemble Shepard and expect people to be able to easily reproduce it. All the Open Source Hardware projects we’ve seen on GitHub either fall into the simple category, and even those that don’t, like KickSat, don’t have build instructions. KickSat sort of gets around this by using SOLIDWORKS to show the assembly, but this requires you to pay for SOLIDWORKS.

Now, you could put together build instructions into a PDF or another file format that isn’t just text and images, but this doesn’t make it easy to collaborate. What people working on Open Source Hardware, as well as those just using the designs to build their own need, is tools like a full-fledged Wiki, so that beyond just text and images like I mentioned, other media such as videos can be included all in the same documentation.

The needs don’t stop there either. As these projects get more complicated, and involve people with backgrounds that don’t include software development, there becomes a need to accommodate people that aren’t comfortable with version control software. These contributors might be mechanical engineers, or photographers, or any other discipline. Unless all of these people can contribute with gentle learning curves, the Open Source Hardware community won’t be able to grow as large or as quickly.

hosting open source hardware projects

Open Design Engine, where we host Shepard Test Stand and other projects, is our way of providing some of these capabilities in one place, instead of across a handful of different websites, making it easier and more likely for projects to be truly Open Source. In all openness and honesty though, Open Design Engine has its shortcomings. We haven’t had the resources to invest in making it great. It’s a minimally viable product, and gives us just enough to be able to make our projects able to be collaborated on and truly Open Source.

Ultimately though, different projects have different needs. Many projects, for a variety of reasons, are relatively simple, and GitHub might be enough. If the project is simple, I’d consider recommending GitHub, if only because of its polish. But hosting open source hardware projects need a better, more advanced environment than that offered for the software world, and that’s the whole point of ODE.

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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