Tag Archives: GNU General Public License

Shared Challenges and Opportunities in Open Source Spaceflight


Image by Jungle_Boy via Flickr

Yesterday’s discussion of open source spaceflight hardware groups reveals a number of repeated challenges facing this movement. These challenges include licensing open source hardware, the development of web-based project management tools for engineering, overcoming the costs associated with engineering software, and resolving the conflict between open source methods and export restrictions on spaceflight hardware. The good news for the open source spaceflight organizations is that they are not alone in addressing some of these challenges, which provides for important opportunities.

The first challenge is licensing open source hardware. Licensing software is a matter of applying terms of use to copywritten works. This is a process which is well understood in the software industry and does not involve any additional cost to the developers. However, intellectual property rights for hardware are more complex. Hardware is often protected by patents, trade secrets, and non-disclosure agreements. Each of these processes involves different laws and processes, and generally additional costs. These factors make developing open source hardware licenses difficult. This challenge is shared by the open source hardware movement as a whole, and is being addressed by other organizations. For example, the Tuscon Amateur Packet Radio Corp. (TAPR-OHL) and CERN (CERNOHL) have developed  open source hardware licenses similar to the GNU Public License 2.0.  Mach 30’s own licensing approach (Mach 30 Open Design Pledge) is modeled after the Arduino’s use of multiple licenses and is similar to the Apache Software License.

The second challenge is developing web-based project management tools for engineering projects. There are a number of web sites which fill a similar role for open source software projects, including Source Forge.  However, these tools are optimized for managing and sharing software projects, not hardware projects. So, at present, most of the organizations listed above are making due with a collection of disconnected tools. Which explains why a number of them are working to address this challenge.  And these organizations are not alone. DARPA, which is researching open source hardware, is soliciting proposals for the development of their own open source hardware project portal called Vehicle Forge.  And CERN has recently announced its Open Hardware Repository.  DARPA and CERN’s investments validate the efforts to develop such a portal, and may help pave the way for wide-spread availability in the near future.

The third challenge is overcoming the cost of engineering software. The ideal solution for these groups is to identify and adopt open source engineering tools. Using open source engineering tools first ensures the tools will continue to be available and at no cost to volunteers participating in the design process. Second, using open source engineering tools fits in with the over all philosophy of open source hardware. The second best solution is to find software which can be used freely for personal or not-for-profit use. Sites like the Mach 30’s Openeering Wiki and Develop Space’s Open Source Engineering Tools are both intended to catalog the available options as a means of addressing this challenge.

The fourth challenge is resolving the conflict between open source methods and export restrictions on spaceflight hardware. In the United States, there are a number of export restrictions which affect almost every type of spaceflight hardware, regardless of use or intent. Put simply, these export controls forbid United States citizens from sharing any material concerning spaceflight hardware. Failing to comply with these regulations can carry severe penalties, making it essential that anyone working in spaceflight hardware follow them. However, following these kind of restrictions is in direct opposition to the open source philosophy.

While it is true these challenges are significant, most of them are shared by the larger open source hardware community, which means we are not alone in facing them.  The key to overcoming these challenges, and making open source spaceflight successful, is to work together to address these challenges, both within the fledgling open source spaceflight and with the larger open source hardware community.

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

Progress Report on Open Design/Open Source Hardware Licensing

One of the pivotal components of Open Design is a set of licenses foropen source hardware (be sure to click through to the PDF) that mirror the ideals underlying the various open source software licenses (and the Creative Commons which has distilled the idea into four traits that combine to form six licenses).  Finding or developing such licenses has been, and continues to be, a major road block for Mach 30.  The good news is that the open source community is thinking about thistoo, and there are some licenses to consider.

One promising license is the TAPR Open Hardware License (TAPR OHL), written by John Ackerman (scroll down to read about his NTP servers), a resident of the Dayton area.  He has written an article in the UD Law Review discussing the TAPR OHL from a legal perspective.  In terms of the Creative Commons licensing terms, the TAPR OHL would probably best be described as an “Attribution Share Alike” license, or in software terms a GPL-like license.  There is also a non-commercial “flavor” of the license, that probably maps to the Creative Commons “Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike”.  I am personally very excited by the inclusion of multiple “flavors” of the license, as I think it is important that the Open Design community have the same choices artists and software developers do in the Creative Commons and various open source software licenses.