Category Archives: News

Mach 30 Reporting In: September 2012

We dedicate our first weekly hangout each month to catching you up on what is happening at Mach 30.  We do project updates, share where we are stuck, and answer any questions that come up about Mach 30 or our work.

We also broadcast and record that hangout, so even if you can’t join us live, you can still stay in the loop.

If you’d rather not watch the whole meeting, or if you’d like to have easy access to the resources we discuss, you can access the meeting minutes here.

It’s not too late for feedback!

If you have questions or ideas we want to hear them.  Leave a comment below and a Mach 30 board member will answer as soon as we can.

Transparency Means Sharing Failures and Successes

Maureen and I had lunch with Jerry from Maui Makers and the Hackerspace Space Program a couple of weeks ago.  We talked about a number of things including Open Design Engine, Makerspaces (which led to a brief tour of Dayton Diode), and Open Source Hardware.

It was our conversation around open source hardware which had me thinking back to our meeting days later.  We started off talking about the usual stuff:  licensing, the new Open Source Hardware Association, and of course we talked about open source spaceflight.

But then, sitting there in a Panera Bread over coffee and snacks, the conversation turned toward questions we don’t always address when talking about open source hardware.  Questions like:

  • What should happen to abandoned projects on sites like Open Design Engine?” – Well, we should keep them up for others to learn from or fork into new projects, which is what Source Forge does.
  • But won’t that eventually lead to lots of incomplete projects?” – Probably, which on the surface sounds like a “bad thing”, especially if there are many more abandoned projects than completed or active ones.
  • And what if the reason the project was abandoned was it just didn’t work?  What if it was a failure???” – People really don’t like to share their failures…
  • But, wouldn’t you want to know about the things that didn’t work so you don’t have to discover that for yourself?” – Well, yes. . . Of course. . .

And then it happened:  the light bulb flashed on, and we started talking very excitedly about science, engineering, publishing, and how hardly anyone writes about their failures.  They only share their successes.  In fact, if someone were to publish one of their failures, their peers would stare at them with bewildered expressions and ask “What are you thinking?”

It was Maureen who put it best, pointing out that we need to change the culture so people’s reaction becomes “What do you mean you didn’t share your failure?!?!

In that spirit, allow me to present an update on Mach 30’s first open source hardware project, including the good with the bad, so we can all learn from the progress Mach 30 has made.

Shepard Test Stand Update

One concept for the Shepard Test Stand

Things have been very busy at the Shepard Test Stand.  Since announcing the project in May, we have completed the requirements analysis, the block diagram, and are working steadily through Shepard’s design.  That’s pretty good news.  We also submitted two Shepard related presentation proposals to the Open Hardware Summit.

The first submission was a plenary session presentation looking at the engineering process used to develop Shepard and the instrumental role Open Design Engine played in the process.  The second submission was a demo of the Shepard Test Stand.   We were disappointed when our plenary presentation was not accepted, but were pleased to be included as one of the demo projects.

So Shepard has had its share of successes, but what about the failures?  Where have things not gone as planned?  The most significant challenge for Shepard is our schedule.  We are more than a month behind, and we now have a confirmed deadline of September 27, 2012 to conduct a public demonstration of the test stand.  This gives us just short of two months to complete the design (which is mercifully nearing completion), assemble, test, and document Shepard.  That is a tight time frame, especially given our work to date.

So, how did we get so far behind schedule?

I see two driving factors.  First, we were probably a little aggressive in the scope of Shepard, and in the time we allotted ourselves to complete the project–especially when you consider this was our first open source hardware project.   Second, we split our focus between Shepard and our work on the Far Horizons Project High Altitude Balloon.  Our group of volunteers is still pretty small, and many ended up working on both projects.  With limited time, something had to give.  At the time, the deadlines associated with the High Altitude Balloon (HAB) launch meant that Shepard’s timeline that had to give.

Still, with the current round of development work on the HAB basically wrapped up, we will be turning our full attention to the Shepard Test Stand.  Hopefully, we can find a way to get caught back up and be ready for the Open Hardware Summit.

Only time will tell.

Long overdue update

It’s not always obvious (unless you read our meeting minutes), but Mach 30 projects are starting gain momentum.  Unfortunately, we are still better at doing the work than remembering to post about it.

We plan to get better about that, but for now this update will help.

Until this year, almost all of the work at Mach 30 has been implemented by members of the Board of Directors (which has so far floated between five and six people).   Relying on the board was necessary, because the work to date was about building the foundation of the organization.  We developed our organizational mission and vision.  We determined what types of projects we should work on, and prepared various forms (oh, the forms!) for things like incorporating the organization and applying for 501c3 status.

While there is still organizational work to do and big board-level challenges (**cough** ITAR) ahead of us, we are excited to have come far enough to start real work on our first open source spaceflight hardware projects.

Open Design Engine

Before we get to the metal-bending, we must mention our most visible non-hardware project:  Open Design Engine (or ODE for short).  ODE is a web portal for collaborating on and sharing open source hardware projects.  Mach 30 began work on ODE about a year ago, and after receiving positive feedback for the pre-alpha demo of ODE at the 2011 Open Hardware Summit last September, we held a KickStarter campaign to fund development of the public beta release. The KickStarter was fully funded, and since then, we have been working with Littlelines to get the new features developed, tested, and deployed.  I am happy to report that the features are basically complete, and that we anticipate launching the public beta at the end of the month, which means everyone will be eligible to sign up for an account on the site and to develop/share their own projects or participate in existing ones.

Hardware Projects

On the hardware front  we are currently pursuing two projects.  The Shepard Test Stand, and a high altitude balloon project (in partnership with Dayton Diode and Adler Planetarium).  The Shepard Test Stand was stalled for a while (mostly because of my other Mach 30 duties were preventing me from managing the project).  Fortunately, we have had a new volunteer, Jeremy Wright, join us at Mach 30 and he has taken the reigns of the Shepard Test Stand.  Since Jeremy has joined us, there has been a flurry of activity on the Shepard forums, and we have nearly completed our requirements analysis.  Look for more details on the Shepard front from Jeremy in an upcoming newsletter.

For the high altitude balloon project, our relationship with Adler and Dayton Diode means we should have plenty of volunteers, but it also means coordinating three groups of people to get things going.  The last time I was in contact with folks from Adler, they were nearly ready to start this project.  We are currently trying to schedule a joint kickoff meeting with all three groups in the very near future, with the first priority being to get a project up on Open Design Engine so we can be sure to document the project from day one.  I will be sure to post a link to the project page as soon as it is up.

Get Connected

If you are ready to join the Mach 30 team, we can’t wait to meet you!  There are two easy ways to get involved.

Weekly Hangout
The best way to get involved is to come hangout out with us on Thursday nights at 10:00 PM Eastern.  Each week we pick a Mach 30 topic or project and do some work on it via Google Hangout with whomever can join us.  Previous hangout activities have covered everything from developing a list of space events related to Mach 30 to share on an online calendar, to working on material to present at IgniteNM, to discussing how gamification can fit into Mach 30’s volunteer strategy.  If you are interested in joining us for a hangout, just add Mach 30 to your circles on Google+ and leave a comment on the next Hangout invitation.

Drawing Board
The second way  to get involved is the Mach 30 Drawing Board.  This new wiki  gives us a way to track project ideas related to advancing humanity into a spacefaring civilization.  The ideas range from the highly technical (developing open source vacuum chambers) to the artistic (creating a calendar to celebrate space achievements), so there is something for everyone.

The drawing board is an open forum, so consider this your personal invitation.  Stop by and help refine the various ideas which are posted on the site, contribute new project ideas, or take responsibility for getting one of the projects off the ground.  We can’t wait to see what you have to offer.

Whew!  That was a lot to cover in one post, and I’m sure I left out some salient details.  If you have questions, or want more information about a specific project, please let me know in the comments!

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Podcast Round Up

Image by Silveira Neto via Flickr

We’ve been stepping up the number of conferences we attend at Mach 30 because we’ve found them to be a great way to spread the word about our organization and to connect with some really great people.  Some of those people are connected with podcasts, and we have been fortunate enough to be invited to do several interviews over the last few months.

Just last week I was interviewed on the Public Knowledge In the Know podcast.  I met the interviewer through contacts from the Open Hardware Summit.  We talked about Open Design Engine, the genesis of Mach 30, and what lies ahead in 2012.  As always, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to share the Mach 30 message with a new audience, and I am very thankful to Public Knowledge for inviting me.  You can listen to the Public Knowledge podcast here (the Mach 30 portion of the interview starts around 18:47).

Back in November, Evadot had me on their podcast.  A contact from the hackerSPACE Workshop mentioned Mach 30 to Evadot, and not long after we scheduled the interview.  We talked about open source spaceflight, the challenges of ITAR, and Mach 30’s approach to those challenges.  You can listen to the Evadot podcast here.

Finally, in October, Greg Moran, Mach 30’s Vice President, and I were jointly interviewed on the Open Hardware Junkies podcast.  Greg and I met the gentleman who runs this podcast during lunch at the 2011 Open Source Hardware Summit.  We spent much of the podcast discussing the role open source hardware plays in the Mach 30 mission and the tools Mach 30 is assembling in support of open source hardware.  It was especially fun to have Greg along for the interview.  I think it is great when we get a chance to bring our different styles of presenting Mach 30’s mission to the table together.  You can listen to the Open Hardware Junkies podcast here.

I’m looking forward to the spring when the next season of conferences gets rolling so we can meet even more people (those associated with podcasts and otherwise) to share the Mach 30 mission and message.

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It’s our Birthday!

J. Simmons wishing Mach 30 a Happy Birthday

Wow, three years sure flew by.  This time in 2009 the Mach 30 board of directors was still discussing whether or not we needed to meet on a monthly basis (we actually questioned whether there would be enough to discuss every month – hah!), and now we are experimenting with weekly hangouts in addition to monthly meetings.  It was just over a year ago that we submitted our IRS Form 1023 (the application to become a 501c3 public charity), and only last September we received our official designation as a public charity.  In three years, we have attended conferences of all shapes and sizes, sharing the ideas of open source spaceflight hardware over meals, during coffee breaks, on car rides, and in presentations.  And we can’t forget our continuing work to develop Open Design Engine, a website for developing and sharing open source hardware projects.

Clearly, we have a lot to celebrate.  If we could, we would invite everyone to our Birthday Party, after all every three year old should have a Birthday Party and ask for lots of presents.  But, there are some logistical issues with throwing a Birthday Party when your friends live all over the world, so we’ll have to settle with just asking for presents (hey, we’re turning three, it’s still perfectly fair to ask for presents).  😉

Mach 30’s Birthday Wish List

Open source a hardware project
If you are designing a piece of hardware–it doesn’t even have to be space related–help us celebrate our birthday by giving your work an open source licence. If you’d like to host it on send us an e-mail and we’ll get you set up.

Add an entry to Openeering
Do you know any cool open source/free software or books for engineers?  Stop by the Openeering Wiki and add an entry about it.

Help out with the Mach 30 Drawing Board
Have an idea for a cool project to help Mach 30 with its mission?  Need an idea for a space related project (and not just engineering projects)?  Want to help refine an idea for a project.  Stop by the Mach 30 Drawing Board and post an idea or comment on an existing one.

Share links to our websites
Introduce us to your space loving friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.  We’d love to have new friends!

Wish us a Happy Birthday
Help us celebrate!   Post a photo on our Facebook page or Google+ of you and a birthday message for Mach 30.  Bonus points if you wear a party hat.

Make a donation
Want to give us an even better gift?  A donation to help cover our operating costs would be greatly appreciated.

Make a donation here.

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