Tag Archives: High-Altitude Balloon

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.

Up, Up, and Away: Live(ish) coverage of High Altitude Ballooning

Today’s the day!

Mach 30 President, J. Simmons and volunteer, Jeremy Wright are in Chicago to begin documenting Open Design Engine‘s first High Altitude Balloon project.

This project is a partnership between Adler Planetarium‘s Far Horizons Project and Albuquerque’s Hackerspace, Quelab.  Adler is providing the design for the balloon, Quelab will build and launch the balloon, and Mach 30 is providing project hosting space on Open Design Engine and project coordination.

As an added bonus, Mach 30 will also be participating in this weekend’s launch.

Watch this space throughout the weekend for new videos, updates and more!

Design Meeting–Live!

You can watch the first design meeting live here–unless the meeting is over, then you should be able to see the video playback.


A small sample of the photos we took on the trip.

Get Involved!

Tweet your questions and comments about the projects with the hashtag #M30AdlerHAB we’ll answer as quickly as we can.  You can also leave comments below.

For more detailed information about the project as it progresses, watch the project page on ODE, and follow the updates on meeting minutes here.

Attending the hackerSPACE Workshop

This weekend Josh (a member of Dayton Diode) and I had the great pleasure to attend Kentucky Space‘s hackerSPACE Workshop.  The hackerSPACE workshop, led by Bob Twiggs co-creator of the CubeSat standard, was an introduction to CubeSats for hackerspaces, entrepreneurs, and educators.  In addition to the formal presentations, there were a number of group suggested breakout sessions including ones on educational outreach, open source CubeSats (of course, I suggested this topic), working with Amateur Radio operators, and operating high altitude balloons.  I am very happy to report the open source CubeSat topic generated quite a bit of additional conversation and opened the door to several partnership opportunities.

One such opportunity involves designing, building, and operating high altitude balloons.  During Mach 30’s strategic planning for 2011, the Mach 30 board decided to start its CubeSat development efforts by first building high altitude balloons.  High altitude balloons offer many of the same design, fabrication, and operation challenges as CubeSats, at a fraction of the cost, making them ideal “kites“.  And, it turns out, there are several high altitude balloon programs near Ohio to partner with, as we learned from the high altitude balloon breakout session at the workshop.  These programs include:

It turns out Josh and I sat next to Adler Planetarium’s Ken Walczak.  Ken and I talked at length about the Far Horizons program and launching high altitude balloons.  It turns out Adler Planetarium has been looking for a way to share the designs and procedures for their high altitude balloons in support of their educational mission.  It just so happens, Mach 30 has a website for sharing open source hardware projects, and as mentioned earlier, a desire to build its own high altitude balloons.  There has also been talk at Dayton Diode about building a high altitude balloon as a group project just because it would be cool.

Sounds like a great partnership opportunity to me.  Here’s how I see it working.  Mach 30 would provide project coordination, funding, and hosting (on Open Design Engine).  Dayton Diode members who are interested in a high altitude balloon project would volunteer their time to build and operate the balloon.  And Adler Planetarium would provide the experience (in the form of plans, procedures, and training).  Ken from Adler has already expressed an interest in this proposal, and believes he can arrange for a live training opportunity for Dayton Diode members at one of the upcoming Far Horizons launches (the next one is in December).  And Mach 30 has funds allocated for a high altitude balloon project.  And, I am cross-posting this blog post on Dayton Diode’s blog to gauge their interest.  More details to follow as things move forward.