Tag Archives: Ground Station

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 http://www.twitter.com/ground_sphere.

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


Testing for Catastrophic Capacitor Failure

Ground Sphere Mk2 PrototypeSometimes what would appear to be a great idea turns out to be not-so-great. I had a concept of bedding the Software Defined Radio (SDR) and pre-amplifier for the Ground Sphere Ground Station in Greatstuff foam to make it more resilient to shipping and other mishandling, similar to the way delicate equipment is shipped in a two piece conformal foam mold.

Jeremy Wright asked a very simple question that I had not considered… what would happen if something electronic fried? That’s not entirely true… I did think of that, and so I selected Greatstuff Fireblock. Then he asked “Did ya test it?” The simple answer is no, I had not.

The Front Range Open Source Hardware Symposium

Front Range Open Hardware Symposium FlyerAfter a successful “hail mary” push to get the satellite simulator working, software installed into the borrowed Windows 7 laptop, and testing the Ground Sphere Mk2 prototype, we left Walsenburg around 10am on Thursday, heading to Boulder for the Front Range Open Source Hardware Symposium.  Attending as presenters rather than just attendees, We got the opportunity to show folks what we think open hardware is all about.  Congressman Jared Polis was  there as well as some of the companies that do Open Source Hardware (OSHW), such as SparkFun ElectronicsLulzBot.com and others.  This was too good of an opportunity to pass up showcasing Ground Sphere, the Cubesat ground station receiver that we’ve been working on for months as a collaboration between Southern Stars and Mach 30. (more…)

2013 Recap

2013 was a great year of growth for Mach 30. We launched a new open source spaceflight hardware project, added great new volunteers to make even more projects possible, and fostered new partnerships in the fields of spaceflight and education. We’re looking forward to the opportunities 2014 is already promising, but before doing that we want to look back at where we’ve been.


Maureen Carruthers

Maureen Carruthers, who has been with Mach 30 since the beginning, retired from the board of directors this year. Maureen was instrumental in defining the organizational ethos that has helped bring Mach 30 to where it is today. Founding member, social media guru, organizational pioneer, these were a few of her day-to-day functions. Among the many projects she was involved in during her time as a board member were the organization our Open Design Engine Kickstarter, and many online events such as the Mach 30 Yuri’s Night party. We will miss Maureen’s contributions, but are very excited to see what she’s been doing in her new role with the National Robotics League.

Mach 30 Hangout

Mach 30 Google+ Hangout

Mach 30 runs on volunteers, starting at our board level. Several very active volunteers have come aboard this year, and have greatly increased the amount we can accomplish. Thanks to them, and the existing Mach 30 volunteers, for contributing your time, talent, and enthusiasm. Mach 30’s mission can not be accomplished without you. If you’re interested in volunteering with Mach 30, we’d love to hear from you. You can use the contact form to let us know a little about where you’d like to contribute. Not interested in hardware or engineering? No problem, Mach 30’s mission spans many disciplines, and we need people with diverse interests and backgrounds to get involved.

Export Control Task Force

During 2013, the Mach 30 community came to understand more fully just how challenging export control regulations are. For those unfamiliar with export controls, they are laws and regulations that prohibit the unauthorized exchange of information and technology that the U.S. government deems a threat to national security. Unfortunately, most things related to spaceflight fall into this category. What this means is that Mach 30 has some extra work to do on bridging the worlds of open source hardware and export controls. This is the reason for the Export Control Task Force. There are several dedicated volunteers who have elected to take on this not-so-glamorous work for the good of us all. Their research and the documents they create are published under a Creative Commons license, so you don’t have to start from scratch when working with export controls. You can find a more in-depth explanation of the task force here, and you can follow the oss-export-control Google group to keep up on the latest happenings.

Shepard Test Stand

Shepard Demo Sneak Peak

Shepard Demo Sneak Peak

Shepard is our model rocket motor test stand. It is designed to provide a safe first step into the world of rocket motor testing and analysis, with the goal of allowing students and makers to replicate the manufacturer thrust data for Estes motors. While Shepard was an active project before 2013, it saw tremendous progress in 2013. We are currently working on version 2.0, leading to a kit version that will hopefully be available sometime in the last half of 2014. Shepard has already been used for some educational and public outreach, with much more planned in 2014 as the kits become available.

Partnership with the Coca-Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC)

CCSSC's Own Shepard Test Stand

CCSSC’s Own Shepard Test Stand

We were very fortunate to connect with the team at the Coca-Cola Space Science Center in Columbus, Georgia. Our Shepard test stand project fits in very well with an educational rocket propulsion unit they are developing. The idea is Mach 30 will provide test stand hardware while CCSSC provides educational curriculum for the test stand. This will allow educators and students to get hands-on experience with real rocket motor testing in a low risk environment. We have a blog post that talks about CCSSC’s success in building their own copy of Shepard from the documentation on Open Design Engine. They will use this copy when developing the curriculum.

Ground Station

Ground Sphere v0.1 Prototype

Ground Sphere v0.1 Prototype

Ground stations that can communicate with satellites and spacecraft in orbit are a critical piece of the human spaceflight technology puzzle. With the ever increasing interest in CubeSats, low cost ground stations that makers can build are becoming even more sought after. Community member Aaron Harper has been working on a series of omni-directional ground stations that makers can build in their garage and operate with just a single laptop computer. The most recent one of these designs is Ground Sphere, which is designed to work with 915 MHz CubeSats.

Partnership with Southern Stars (SkyCube)

It’s certainly no accident that our Ground Sphere ground station design is compatible with 915 MHz CubeSats. Through a serendipitous meeting and impromptu demo at the New Space conference, Southern Stars became a more recent partner of Mach 30’s and has a very interesting use for Ground Sphere. They Kickstarted a CubeSat named SkyCube that is scheduled to launch in January. SkyCube has a very interesting feature that will transmit the tweets from orbit that SkyCube backers have written. Ground Sphere is designed to give backers the opportunity to receive those tweets directly in their homes, schools, or makerspaces.

Conference Attendance

J. Simmons at New Space 2013

J. Simmons at New Space 2013

As always, there were many great conferences to attend in 2013. The Open Hardware Summit, NewSpace, and the Open Source Hardware Documentation Jam, just to name a few. We have write-ups for a couple of these events on our blog.

  1. Open Hardware Summit
  2. New Space Conference

We find that nothing quite replaces face-to-face meetings with other space and open hardware enthusiasts. Conferences never fail to be worth the effort. Attending a space or open hardware related conference in 2014? Keep an eye on our social media channels to see if we’ll be there. We’d love to meet you!

Moving Forward

While we’re excited about what we were able to accomplish in 2013, there is so much more that can be done in 2014 with your involvement. If you have a passion for space, and want to see it become a deeper part of your everyday life, please consider becoming a member of the Mach 30 Catalyst Club. The Catalyst Club is our yearly membership program that allows you to contribute directly to Mach 30’s mission. There are multiple levels of donation, from $20 to $1000. Please consider giving at whatever level fits you the best, and partner with us in hastening the advancement of humanity into a spacefaring civilization.

Ad astra per civitatem – to the stars through community.

Related Links

New Space 2013 Wrap Up

J. Simmons at New Space 2013

J. Simmons at New Space 2013

As I mentioned in my last post, Mach 30 had a booth at the New Space 2013 Exhibit Hall.  This was our first time as an exhibitor at a major space conference, and it was time and money well spent.  We got to share our open source mission, demo two of our hardware projects, and meet some really great people.

The display materials in the booth, prepared by our graphic design ninja and board member Rebekah McGrady, covered our mission, open source hardware, Open Design Engine, the Export Control Task Force, and our current open source spaceflight projects.  One of the big surprises for me was just how well people responded to our mission.  Just a few years ago we would routinely be greeted with blank stares when we explained our mission is to develop open source spaceflight hardware.  This week I saw only one blank stare.  And everyone else was so excited by open source spaceflight that I got more than one high five.

I think part of the change in attitude was due to the fact that we had hardware to show.  Our booth included demos of two of our projects:  the Shepard Test Stand and our first ground station prototype.  More than a few people stopped mid stride when they saw the hardware on the table.  Those were always the best conversations.  The feedback we heard from the attendees about our hardware projects was extremely valuable.  For Shepard the big lessons were we should stick with the Arduino for our data acquisition system (teachers in STEM environments are already learning about Arduinos) and there is much more interest in Shepard at the collegiate level than I realized was out there.   For the ground station the big lesson is just how much demand there is from individuals and educators for this version of the ground station.  It is so high, I already have a number of emails already from people asking for a link to the project website.

As is always the case when we attend conferences, I met a number of great people at New Space. First is Liz from the Space Frontier Foundation’s Teachers in Space program. They are running teacher workshops about spaceflight and raising money to send teachers on sub-orbital flights. It’s a great program and we are talking about how the Shepard Test Stand and other Mach 30 open source projects could be used in their workshops. Next is Reuben who I met over drinks Friday night thanks to an introduction by Ethan, a Mach 30 volunteer. Reuben has experience in fundraising and has been sharing links with me for the Revenue Generation Committee.

Ground Station Demo

Ground Station Demo

Finally, last but far from least, is Tim from Southern Stars.  Southern Stars KickStarted a cubesat last year, the SkyCube, and he brought the engineering model to the conference.  It did not take the two of us long to realize he had a satellite and I had a ground station, and that clearly we should see if they could talk to each other. Within an hour we were sending messages from the SkyCube engineering model on one end of the exhibit hall to the Mach 30 ground station at the other end. And then, as if that was not cool enough, we decided to use the two projects to run an impromptu demo during a panel Tim was on later in the afternoon. Check out the very excited celebration of the demo over on Google+.

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