Category Archives: Mach 30 Projects

Shepard Test Stand is now OSHWA Certified Open Hardware

Mach 30’s first hardware project was the Shepard Test Stand, a piece of hardware we designed to run tests on commonly available Estes rocket motors. From day one, it was a piece of Open Source Hardware. Now it’s an Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) Certified Open Source Hardware, receiving serial number US000006.shepard-oshwa-cert

OSHWA created the program primarily as a way to help people identify that a piece of hardware meets the commonly accepted definition of Open Source Hardware. This includes such points as the ease of access to the documentation, licensing, and others. All of these items are related to keeping the hardware as accessible as possible for others to recreate it themselves, modify, or even use parts to create their own unique piece of work.

Mach 30 was invited to participate in a closed trial of the process to certify that a piece of hardware should receive the OSHWA Certified Open Source Hardware badge, and as such we were privileged enough to receive one of the first serial numbers, US000006. If you’d like to learn more about the Shepard Test Stand, you can find out more on the project’s page on Open Design Engine.

Shepard Rocket Motor Test Stand | Apogee III | Mach 30

Shepard Rocket Motor Test Stand

There were 60 separate projects registered, from 9 different countries from around the world. For more information about these first projects, check out the post on If you’d like to learn more about the registration process, that link also contains a link to the registration form.

About Ground Sphere: Past, Present, and Future

Mach 30 is currently building Ground Sphere. This is a ground station that will allow us (and you!) the ability to listen to satellites cheaply and easily. We’ve been working on Ground Sphere for some years, starting in 2013. Below is an abbreviated history of the project, although more details are available at Ground Sphere’s History Page on Open Design Engine.

Ground Sphere Satellite Ground Station Mission Patch

What is a ground station?

Ground stations are basically radio stations, except that they let people communicate with satellites by sending and receiving radio signals to and from Space. Sending signals requires a license, so Ground Sphere is designed to only receive signals from Space. Mach 30 is in the process of creating Ground Sphere MK3. It is an open-source ground station project, documented on our Open Design Engine. Ground Sphere’s ultimate goal is to allow those that use it to listen to the International Space Station as it travels above the Earth.

What kind of signals can you receive with Ground Sphere?

The various incarnations of Ground Sphere have had several capabilities, from listening to a specific satellite, to receiving Ham radio signals. There’s a wide range of frequencies that the Ground Sphere design can be tuned to, and we’re asking anyone interested to help us determine the best frequency to tune it to. You can tell us your thoughts in our minute long survey.

The history of Ground Sphere:

  • MK1 was our proof of concept. Its mission was to receive signals from Ham Radio Satellites, and when it made its on-screen appearance at Yuri’s Night in 2013 in Colorado, it was able to receive signals from as far away as California and Tennessee.
  • MK2 was the companion to SkyCube , and its mission was to receive “Tweets” from SkyCube, a Kickstarter CubeSat project from Southern Stars. Unfortunately, SkyCube had gotten essentially lost in space.

Current Ground Sphere MK3 development

  1. First, we wanted to review other maker ground stations, such as the SDR software evaluation based on “listening to satellites for $30”.  This software’s goal was to listen to signals, and allow them to be recorded. Unfortunately, we found that this article did not entirely allow for the reader to listen to the ISS for $30.
  2. Next, we want to make sure that the math of satellite communications from the ground is well documented, which we’ve started in a video by Mach 30 volunteer Aaron Harper. You can see that video below. Needless to say, there is a LOT of math here. It is important that our math be checked, and documented, so that others are able to recreate our findings and research.
  3. Beyond the basics of construction and documentation, we want to see what people might be most interested in using Ground Sphere for, and that means researching other possible uses. Examples include downloading images from weather satellites, but there might be more; tell us if you’ve got one in mind!
  4. Step four is to build the new prototype for a to-be-determined frequency. It could be weather satellites, Ham radio satellites, or something else entirely.

As Ground Sphere progresses, we will update our readers about how we’re able to grow and use the project.

Remember, you can be a part of projects like Ground Sphere by joining our weekly IPT Standup meetings, held on Google hangouts. You can join us on Tuesday evenings at 8:30pm Eastern Time by clicking here. We are always interested in meeting people who are interested in being a part of our mission to help all of Humanity reach Outer Space. To find out more about how you can become a Mach 30 Catalyst, please click here.

You can also follow GroundSphere on Twitter at

What would you be interested in using Ground Sphere for? Let us know in the comments!


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

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

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.