Category Archives: Open Source Spaceflight Revolution

Jones Boys’ Rocketry

As Open Source Spaceflight Hardware (OSSHW) developers, we love to see other people building, modifying, remixing, and using our designs. In fact, we believe that the “Prime Directive” of Open Hardware is that it must be reproducible. That’s why we got so excited when we were contacted through Open Design Engine by John and Christopher from Jones Boys’ Rocketry. Christopher was working on a rocketry project for school, and was attempting to get a copy of our Shepard Test Stand thrust measurement hardware working.

John and Christopher

John and Christopher in February of ’08

Having someone build your Open Hardware has another advantage – you find more bugs and design flaws. The more people build and use your hardware, the better it gets. Our work with Jones Boys on Open Design Engine was no exception. They found a couple of bugs in our software, and their work brought about some operational improvements that we had glossed over because we’re so used to the hardware.

Christopher Testing the Shepard Hardware

After about two weeks of back-and-forth work, John and Christopher were able to get a successful data capture with a live engine.

Jones Boys’ Test Firing

Christopher was able to collect and analyze data from various motor fuel grain configurations and assembled everything into his science fair project display.

Christopher’s Display

Christopher took his display to multiple science fairs, and did extremely well. He was in 9th grade when he competed, and in the regional ISEF Science Fair, took first place in physics for his group. After that he went on to win second place in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics fair, which included a $100 cash award and a 3 day workshop at Goddard (I’m very envious). He also got an honorable mention from the USAF Office of Scientific Research.

Christopher Explaining His Project at the Science Fair

Congratulations to Christopher for doing a great job, and thanks to him for using Mach 30 hardware. We’re always excited to work with people who want to build spaceflight related hardware without starting from scratch. If you’re interested in building a rocket motor test stand or satellite receiving ground station, please feel free to contact us. We’d love to talk with you.

ad astra per civitatem – to the stars through community

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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

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What do we mean by a “spacefaring civilization?”

2001: A Space Odyssey Clavius Moon Colony

Image by Dallas1200am via Flickr

The mission of Mach 30 is “to hasten the advancement of humanity into a spacefaring civilization.” But what does that mean? When we talk about a “spacefaring civilization,” we are talking about the promises of the 1960s made real. Consider the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in April 1968 over a year before the first humans walked on the Moon. This movie predicted that by 2001 major airlines would be offering regular service to Low Earth Orbit using reusable space planes. It also predicted there would be multiple, extensive lunar bases. And, let’s not forget that the defining mission to another planet is not to Mars (been there, done that?) but to Jupiter and its moons! This is something that not even the most forward looking advocates of space exploration are discussing.

2001 is not the only example from the 1960s that makes these kind of predictions. There are a number of of books, videos, and other material that all promised a very similar future (routine access to space, lunar colonies, expeditions to Mars), all by the end of the twentieth century. Yet, none of this has come to pass. At present, all human access to Earth orbit is still provided by government space programs. And the Space Shuttle, while partly reusable, does not come close to being the kind of space plane that can make routine flights to space (commercial or otherwise) a reality.

Yes commercial companies are starting to work on access to space, but each of them has to start at square one when they are founded. Just look at the first project of almost every new space company: design and build a rocket engine. Seriously, if you want to start a spaceflight company, the first thing you need to do is design your own rocket engine. This is the equivalent of saying go design your own jet engine to anyone who wants to start an airline.

Still, we believe, some day the kind of future predicted in 2001 (or one very much like it) will come to pass. It is a vision born of the idea that commercial enterprise has developed the tools, technologies, and markets to establish a true space economy. And eventually all of those things will come to pass. It is just in our nature to push the boundaries of what can be done and where we can go. So, reaching this future is less a question of if, and more a question of when.

Given the costs associated with spaceflight (and the amount of effort spent reinventing the “wheel”), it seems reasonable to assume that without any intervention it will take quite a bit of time before we reach the future promised in the film 2001. Our goal at Mach 30 is to shorten the wait. We believe that by applying the principles of sustainability, open source development, and the use of mature technology we can get off the “not invented here” merry-go-round, and instead get on a path toward evolutionary improvements built on a shared foundation of technologies. And that like the explosion of commercial enterprise on the Internet, this shared foundation will lead to new and unimagined markets in space for commercial enterprise to serve.

End of the Space Age? Or a Time for Reinvention?

Although no astronauts are visible in this pic...

Image via Wikipedia

The Economist has dedicated an issue to the “end of the space age” suggesting over three articles that the promise of the space race has faded, political will eroded, and public interest evaporated. Who can blame them? Aging isn’t easy! Like life, it always seems more exciting when you’re young and free and visionary.

Kennedy mesmerized the world with sheer audacity of launching the space race. Without a doubt the excitement led to incredible achievements built on competition and daring goals. It helped, of course, that this competition had political objectives and seemingly unlimited resources to back it up.

When the shuttle program took off, it galvanized the world, again, around the possibilities of new technologies and intrepid journeys. The shuttles made it possible to create and support the International Space Station with which the shuttle has docked for that last time. I know I was captivated by the possibilities the ISS provided that unfortunately never materialized for most of the American (and global) public. Indeed, The Economist got it right that, over thirty years, the space program has become commonplace, mundane—just another trip to the International Space Station. But, where the The Economist sees the mundane Mach 30 appreciates the mature.

There’s less fanfare in building the foundations, but Mach 30 is focused on a new audacious goal—Open Source Spaceflight Hardware; cooperation that moves beyond government agendas or private industry to a community-led effort. Shuttle technology never focused sufficiently on building the mature technologies that could be leveraged for missions further afield. Imagine what small steps over 30 years might have meant to a spacefaring future.

Mature technologies (perhaps with small changes or new uses) are the foundation of successful systems. It’s critical that those systems be sustainable also in order to make long-term space travel a reality. Mach 30 goes one step further by placing open source as a central springboard for innovation to keep barriers low and advancement rapid among communities of practice—reaching for the stars through community.

Mach 30 accepts that moving a little slower but very deliberately may actually be the quickest route—even admitting we do miss some of the excitement of the race! That is maturity indeed.

And, yet there are dreams to be achieved. There are bold goals yet to be named. Find them with us—whether you’re a space enthusiast or simply recall shuttle memories—by joining Mach 30’s community. Donate. Friend us. Contribute to Open Design Engineering. With an open community leveraging mature technologies for sustainable travel spacefaring will be a reality.

Introducing the Open Source Spaceflight Revolutionaries


Image by x-ray delta one via Flickr

At Mach 30, we dream of a world where people live and work on other worlds and in space stations.  When we say people, we don’t mean six at a time, we mean hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands. One of the keys to making this dream a reality is to share the technology of space as widely as possible, and so we are doing all of our engineering work as open source hardware, and we are not alone.  In the last four years nearly one dozen groups have formed with the stated purpose of developing space flight systems in a manner similar to that of open source software projects. These groups intend to develop and then share the designs of a wide variety of space systems including launch vehicles, satellites, and lunar probes.

The path in front of all of us is a steep one.  Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the challenges and opportunities on our shared path  to a strong open source spaceflight industry.  Today, let’s meet the revolutionaries of open source spaceflight.

Copenhagen Suborbitals

Copenhagen Suborbitals is an all volunteer Danish organization founded by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen. The mission of Copenhagen Suborbitals is to launch a human being into space. They are currently developing a sub-orbital spacecraft composed of a one-person capsule called the Tycho Brahe, and a booster called HEAT.

The Collaborative Space Travel and Research Team

The Collaborative Space Travel and Research Team (CSTART) is an all volunteer organization with members throughout the world. CSTART was founded in 2009 by a group of space enthusiasts who met in an online community site called Reddit. The mission of CSTART is to organize and finance open source spaceflight projects run by space enthusiasts. Current CSTART projects include a cubesat called COSMoS, a high altitude balloon called Cloudlab, and a hybrid rocket called Chimera.

Develop Space

Develop Space is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 2007. Its mission is to enable human exploration and development of space through open collaboration. Develop Space projects include an architecture study for a minimalist human mission to Mars, the development of a space exploration reference library, and research into engineering tools that are licensed as open source software.

Mach 30

Mach 30 is a non-profit organization incorporated in 2009. Our mission is to hasten the advancement of humanity into a spacefaring society. Current projects at Mach 30 focus on developing a strong legal and organizational foundation for running open source spaceflight projects. These projects include the Openeering Wiki, a community portal documenting the existence of and experience using free and open source engineering tools, Open Design Engine, a web based engineering project management portal, and research into licensing and management of open projects within the boundaries of export control laws such as ITAR.

Open Aerospace

Open Aerospace was founded by Ralph Ewig in 2009. The mission of Open Aerospace is to be the organizing framework for space enthusiasts to collaborate on human activities beyond Earth. Open Aerospace’s projects focus on defining an end to end architecture for space exploration.

OpenLuna Foundation

The OpenLuna Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded by Paul Graham and Gary Snyder. The mission of Open Luna is to return humans back to the moon through private enterprise. Early projects at Open Luna are focusing on a series of robotic missions and public outreach. Their eventual goal is to build a small human outpost on the moon.

Open Space Movement

Open Space Movement was founded in 2010. Its mission is to provide a collaborative engineering environment, educational resources, and organizational framework for a public space venture. Open Space Movements current primary focus is the development of their collaborative engineering environment as a web portal similar to those used to host open source software projects.

Portland State Aerospace Society

The Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS) is a student organization at Portland State University. PSAS projects center around the development and operation of low cost open source rockets. Their most recent launch, held in October of 2010, was a complete success.


Team FREDNET is an official competitor in the Google Lunar X-Prize. Team FREDNET is incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit organization. As a competitor in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Team FREDNETs projects all center around the development of a prize winning lunar rover.

Ultra Light Space Flight

The Ultra Light Space Flight (ULSF) group is a community of individuals who are working on developing open source space probes.  Their core value is to “to the smallest possible craft operating on the smallest possible budgets” and they believe that robotic probes have been and will continue to be the backbone of space exploration.


WikiSat is an international group of volunteers and students. Their mission is to make access to space open to everyone. Their current projects include a high altitude balloon that will act as a proof of concept for their engineering processes, and a ultra-small scale satellite launcher as an entry to the N-Prize.

Want to join Mach 30’s team in the Open Source Spaceflight Revolution?  Learn more here.