Tag Archives: ISS

Ground Sphere Mk III Sprint 1 Review

Ground Sphere Mk III Sprint 1 Review | Mach 30

Ground Sphere Mk III Mission Logo

Like we mentioned in the 2016 Annual Plan, Mach 30 is shifting from discipline specific project teams, like the #EngineerSpeak and marketing teams, towards working as a consolidated Integrated Product Team (IPT). The IPT merges the technical, business, marketing, and all other aspects of a project into a single focused effort. This approach improves cross-discipline communication and helps to incorporate feedback from all stakeholders.

The best way to experience these benefits is by observing the nature and quality of our team’s work. Fortunately, the use of Agile methods gives Mach 30 regular opportunities to review our team’s work in the form of Sprint Reviews. At the beginning of each 6 week sprint the Mach 30 IPT commits to accomplishing a set of tasks, called Product Backlog Items or PBIs. The team then holds a review at the end of the sprint to report on which tasks they completed and how those tasks were accomplished.

Our first IPT, which is working on a third generation of the Ground Sphere satellite receiving station, just wrapped up its first sprint. So, how did they do? Let’s start by looking at what the six person team committed to:

  • Marketing
    • Register social media accounts for Ground Sphere on Twitter, Instagram, Vine
    • Post the March edition of Launch Pad, the Mach 30 newsletter
    • Design mission logo for Ground Sphere Mk III
    • Post weekly IPT progress (aka – materials from stand ups, etc) on Mach 30 social media outlets
  • Engineering
    • Technical literature review of comparable systems (amateur and open source ground receiving ground stations)
    • Research and identify a source for link budget calculations (including test cases)
    • Reproduce the Listening to satellites for 30 dollars blog post results

This list is a great mix of both marketing and engineering work to create a foundation for sharing technical results and to prepare a refresh of the Ground Sphere design.  And the best news is that the team completed six of these seven tasks (everything but the link budget calculation research).  As it turned out the link budget calculation research was a larger task than anticipated, but the team still accomplished lots of good work on this task.  The team also took on a stretch marketing task: connecting with makerspaces to solicit help replicating Ground Sphere tests.  Fablab TacomaNova LabsCatylator Makerspace, and Hack Canton have all expressed interest.

So that means in the first six weeks of the project the IPT established the ground work for sharing Ground Sphere on the internet, began critical technical literature reviews, and conducted a live test of a similar system.  It turns out we were only able to replicate the circumstances of the blog post but not the results (as the Mythbusters would put it), but we are already working on replicating the results by modifying the test in Sprint 2.

Finally, since we value transparency at Mach 30, we recorded the Sprint Review so anyone can take a look at the work the IPT has done.  Check it out below.

Let us know if you have any questions or comments about the Sprint 1 Review or the Ground Sphere Mk III project in general.  ad astra per civitatem

The Mach 30 Guide to ISS Tracking (And Sharing It)


Example ground track of the ISS, from http://www.nasa.gov/

Did you know that the International Space Station (aka the ISS) typically flies over your head about a half dozen times every day? More importantly, did you know that you can actually see it happen with your naked eye?

Admittedly, you can’t always just look up and see it whizzing by. There are two reasons for this. The first is because the sky is too bright during the day. Second, during the night, all the Earth’s satellites are in its shadow. There are, however, two small windows each day in which it is possible to see the orbiting satellites flying overhead. These windows occur during the “terminator conditions”. Sadly, they have nothing to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They do, however, have everything to do with the transition from day to night.

The "terminator line" is the region on Earth between daylight and night time.

The “terminator line” is the region on Earth between daylight and night time. PHOTO CREDIT: Image by Norman Kuring, NASA GSFC, using data from the VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP.

A terminator, also called “twilight zone” or “gray line,” is a line that separates the day and night sides of a planet. In other words, “terminator conditions” simply mean sunrise and sunset. During these periods, the Earth’s satellites come out of the shadow and are able to reflect the sun’s light. Besides that, the sky is lit up just enough to make bright objects visible, but not so much that they’re drowned out.

The weather and sky conditions also play an important role in how well you are able to see the ISS as it flies over.  Obviously, you won’t see anything if it’s cloudy, and you won’t want to go outside if it’s too cold. Therefore, you want to be smart and plan ahead. You can get a weather forecast anywhere, but “sky conditions” are a little harder to find. Sky conditions determine two things: cloud cover and the probability of rain. You also want to know the moon’s current phase because that affects how well you can see at night. You can check out the Sky Charts from Clear Dark Sky to make sure.

BlackfootCSK from http://www.cleardarksky.com/

Clear Sky Chart — Sample forecast of “seeing conditions” put out by http://www.cleardarksky.com/

Basically, there are three things you need for your ISS tracking project to be successful:

1.) Know when and where to look

2.) Use a recording device

3.) Post it online and tag Mach 30

Let’s dig a little deeper into the details, shall we?

1.) Know when and were to look. In general, just before dawn and just after dusk are the best times to look. Several websites will calculate the exact times for you, and most will also give you specific directions in which to look. Here are my personal favorites:

Heavens-Above. This site is the most technically accurate and computationally full featured. This is best if you are comfortable with tech and have a basic understanding of astronomy. Besides the ISS, it has a ton of other satellites that you can track.

NASA’s Spot the Station. Probably the most user-friendly option — it is NASA’s ISS after all, which means they have the best resources.

Satellite Flybys. Just enter your zip code and voila! It’s not the most accurate, but more than good enough to get you looking in the right direction.

ISS AstroViewer. Of all the sites on my list, this has the least features. It’s not very complicated, but it still tells you when and where to look. All you need is to input your city name.

2.) Use a recording device. Like we said, the ISS is usually bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, and therefore a decent quality camera or even some camera phones will be able to see it. Of course, the better the camera, the better the quality of pictures and video that you can get. If you can get your hands on an SLR camera and some good telephoto lens, even better. If your device allows it, use “low-light” or “nighttime” mode. If you’re using a DSLR or manual lenses, adjust your apertures, ISO settings, and exposures accordingly. Long exposure photographs will produce a “streak” as the ISS flies through the frame. 

Flickr user Paul Williams via Creative Commons

PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr user Paul Williams via Creative Commons

You’ll also want to use some kind of stationary object to steady your camera, like a tripod or luggage rack of a parked car. This is especially important when you’re using telephoto lens or low light settings, because your device will be much more sensitive to movement, and therefore more likely to blur. The more versatile the mount, the better.  The ISS doesn’t hang around in any area for vary long, so get ready to readjust the field of view as the station moves across the sky.

Trust me, you’re going to get excited and want to gasp, and point, and do a little dance when you spot the iSS (or is that just me? No, it can’t be). So again, plan ahead and set the camera up early, leaving you to enjoy the event without worrying about messing up the shot.

3.) Post online. All that hard work and success deserves a little recognition, and we at Mach 30 would definitely love to see what you get. Just post it on your favorite social media site (or all of them, because why not), and tag us. Use @Mach_30 on Twitter, @Mach30 on Facebook, +Mach30 on Google+, Mach30-blog on Tumblr, and Mach 30 on YouTube. Then you can brag about your ISS tracking skills!

Have fun!

Mach 30 ISS Tracking - ISS flyover

PHOTO CREDIT: Greg Moran, cerca 2010 in Dayton, OH via Creative Commons.

A New Path to Space (for everyone)

J. Simmons introduces Mach 30, a grass roots space program, and invites the space community to join this revolutionary movement.

Show your support by making a donation here.

Can’t watch the video right now?  You can read the transcript below.

If you don’t care about space exploration, this video is not for you. Feel free to stop watching now. But, before you do, I would appreciate it if you took a moment to send it to any of your friends who are into space. They might like it.

If, on the other hand, like me you grew up with Star Wars and the Space Shuttle, or going a little further back, with Star Trek and Apollo, then this message is for you.

Hello, my name is J. Simmons. I am the founder and President of Mach 30, a non-profit with a new approach to space exploration.

I have wanted to go to space my whole life. My earliest memory is sitting on my mom’s lap at a drive-in movie theater watching Star Wars. I was too young to really get it, but the images of ships flying through space and of traveling to other worlds stuck with me. As I grew up and the Shuttle program started, I believed people when they said the Shuttle was going to make the dream of routine access to space a reality. And yet, 135 missions, and 30 years later, and we are still only dreaming. Sure the ISS is an impressive feat of engineering, but it is not somewhere any of us can expect to visit.

We have waited too many years for someone else to change the course of human space exploration. Instead of again asking our representatives to increase NASA’s budget, or cheering on another rocket launch, we must take the reigns ourselves.

There has never been a more perfect moment for a grass roots space program. The Internet has changed the way we work, share, and support one another. The success of open source software is ushering in a revolution in the design of hardware. And, the gap in US spaceflight has opened the door to new directions in space policy.

Enter Mach 30. Our goal is to design open source spaceflight hardware, and in doing so, create a world where the next “Facebook” is a space-based company whose business model is as inconceivable to us now as Facebook would have been in 1990. That’s the kind of world I want to live in. Where access to space is like the Internet: everywhere and a part of our daily lives.

We need your help to go from concept to reality. First, please share this video with all of your pro-space friends. We need to get the word out that there is a new path open to us, one that we have direct control over. Send it to your scifi buddies, post it on Facebook, tweet about it, share it with your Linux Users Groups…

Second, please make a donation to Mach 30. Hardware costs money, legal fees cost money. It turns out space is just really expensive. And remember, it all adds up. $5, $10, $25, and $50 at a time, from everyone who dreams of going into space could change the whole game.

Thank you for your help and support. Ad astra per civitas – to the stars through community

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.

The Space Program Marks Time with a Career in the Classroom

A big thanks to Lucie Carruthers for sharing her memories of NASA‘s space program as part of Mach 30’s Open Source Spaceflight Revolution!

This month marks the forty-second anniversary of man stepping onto the moon for the first time and the last time the space shuttle will orbit the Earth. In the span of the fifty-five years that I have spent in the classroom, many space discoveries have been made, many opinions about space have been proven to be false, and many amazing innovations in science have occurred. None of the more recent events in the NASA program have eclipsed the initial euphoria I felt when the United States first launched its space program in the 1950s.

USSR postage stamp depicting the communist sta...

Image via Wikipedia

My first introduction to space exploration came at the hands of the older students in the one room, Nebraska schoolhouse I attended in 1957. I remember I was six years old, and in first grade — an age when anything the seventh and eighth graders told me had to be true. On a fall day, warm enough that only a sweater was needed to run out to the pump where the big kids were passing around a dipper filled with water from the small, corrugated tin shed that sat a few yards away from the building, I joined a group of older students who were standing around during a recess break. Someone noticed a shiny object moving across the brilliant blue sky, pointed at it, and yelled, “Sputnik!” Then I recalled my older sister, who was in the fifth grade, burst into tears. She said, “The Communists are going to get us. They’re going to bomb the United States.” For many years, I lived in the shadow of fear that the Communists from Russia were going to destroy our country. That threat was further reinforced when my dad built a sturdy bomb shelter in the basement of our home. This was also the era when some of our teachers told us that humans would never put a man on the moon, while the more optimistic ones predicted people would drive flying cars by the year 2000. Some of the older folk, those individuals born in the late 1800s, often believed that astronauts never stepped foot on the moon but were part of a huge government conspiracy concocted to make people believe they did.

Armstrong works at the Apollo Lunar Module in ...

Image via Wikipedia

In 1969, the next momentous event in space travel occurred. Contrary to what some of the naysayers from the early 1950s predicted, NASA—using Apollo 11–did put a man on the moon in July of that year, two months after I graduated from high school. The Norfolk Daily News, a local paper, used a fourth of the front page to declare the victorious success of JFK’s New Frontier program. My husband kept a copy of the Omaha World Herald’s special edition commemorating the event and it’s buried somewhere in our house, hidden away like the memory of the near-tragic Apollo 13, an event I journaled about in college.

Space Shuttle Challenger ' s smoke plume after...

Image via Wikipedia

Throughout the next forty years, most of my time was spent in the classroom. It was there that I received the heart-breaking news about Challenger’s fateful flight, carrying a teacher who many of us in the teaching profession had secretly wanted to swap places with, and the repeat shuttle disaster of the Columbia in 2003 that spread a pall over the whole space program. I was still in the classroom and rejoiced when my second cousin, Clayton Anderson, was chosen to man the International Space Station for 152 days in 2007. He instigated a lively interaction with school children while serving at the space station that drew many of them into the fascinating study of space. Afterwards, he visited Minden, Nebraska, the place where I teach, because our town is the home of Royal Composites, a company that makes materials for space launches. The miracle of space travel was never far removed from elements in my teaching career.

I am now approaching my sixtieth year—a year that might possibly be my last in the classroom. Coinciding as it does with the last shuttle mission this summer leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. Can travel in space be so easily compacted into the time a life-long teacher scrolls through her career? Wheeled vehicles have existed for over 5500 years. Inventors took another 5400 years to add a motor to them. Today, those vehicles still operate using the principle of friction created by contact with the earth. When will man’s imagination fly high enough to lift the mode of ordinary travel off the ground and into the wild blue yonder? I hope humans say good-bye to elite space exploration and hello to private travel created by the masses through open source technology.

Ready to join the Open Source Space Revolution?  Learn more here.