Tag Archives: Open Design Engine

Shepard Test Stand Update 06-17-13

From the beginning of our rocket motor test stand project, code named “Shepard”, our primary objective has been that the data we record with the test stand has to match the manufacturer’s data.  That seems like an obvious goal, but the temptation is always there to run on ahead to bigger and better things before you have a good foundation.  For our rocket motor/engine test stand program, Shepard is that foundation.  Once we know that we have the fundamentals down, we can progressively scale things up through sub-orbital, orbital, and even transorbital capable rocket engines.

Aaron Harper and I have recently been working overtime to get Shepard version 1.1 ready for one of our partners, the Coca-Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC), in Columbus, Georgia.  We’re quickly advancing toward version 2.0 which will be available as an open source hardware kit. Our hope is that the kit will be a tool that the CCSSC and others can use to safely teach hands-on rocket science.  Last week, for the first time Shepard satisfied it’s “vendor verification” requirement during an impromptu test firing.  I had just completed the build of some new hardware that was bound for CCSSC, and like a good little engineer, made sure that I tested it before shipping. The video below shows the actual test firing.

The data looked pretty good onscreen, but it wasn’t until I got back inside and took a closer look that I got excited.

Shepard 1.1 Sample Thrust Curve

The motor I test fired was a D12, and if you compare our curve to the D12’s curve in the official Estes documentation, you can see that they’re very similar.  Our curve has more noise in it, mainly because it’s raw data with no clean-up. The peak thrust, time to peak thrust, and the fall-off of the profile before propellant burnout all match up very well.  Keeping in mind that Shepard 1.1 is a retrofit of version 1.0 to test components for Shepard 2.0, and is not specifically designed for use with this hardware, that’s pretty remarkable.

By the time we tune and tighten things up on Shepard 2.0, we should have a very solid base to stand on when reaching towards our goal of hastening the advancement of humanity into a spacefaring civilization.

If you’re curious about exactly what it took to get to this point, have a look at our development logs on Open Design Engine.  We’d also be happy to answer questions that you have if you contact us through this blog, email, or any of our social media channels.  We look forward to hearing from you.

ad astra per civitatem


Change. It’s never easy, even when it is for the best of reasons. In a group or corporation, it can be chaotic or revolutionary. Yet, as most philosophers will tell you, it is inevitable. Here at Mach 30, we have seen a lot of change from those early days when it was simply a dream in the mind of Mach 30’s founder and president, J. Simmons.

In the last year, there has been a steady increase in volunteers and a change in board members. Maureen Carruthers, treasurer and long time member of Mach 30, stepped down as a board member in March of 2013.  Her  new position as the Program Manager for the National Robotics League is demanding much of her time.  Her contributions to board leadership and Mach 30’s communications team will be missed.  Fortunately, five new volunteers have stepped up to help on a variety of tasks such as Open Design Engine (ODE), the Export Control Taskforce and our Yuri’s Night Celebrations.

2013 is looking to be a busy year for Mach 30 events.  To start off, we celebrated our 4th year as an organization in January. New technology baffled the techies amongst us so the celebration was not as well attended as possible. However, we did overcome some of those issues in time for our Yuri’s Night Celebration. We are looking forward to a repeat of that success in January and April 2014.

Tech Gremlins bit Mach 30 again as we attempted to hold a Hangout concerning the Open Source Hardware Documentation Jam on the same day that Google+ made a sweeping upgrade to their service. We had a great hangout, but lost the video.  It is hoped that we can hold another hangout soon on this topic.

2013 has seen an explosion of projects on and off of ODE due to the diligent work of Jeremy Wright, Aaron Harper, and other volunteers.  These include improvements to ODE itself, enhancements to the Shepard Test Stand, and work on a satellite ground station. A grant proposal to SpaceGAMBIT was made in April in order to update and expand ODE as a development tool and a community.  However, the competition was stiff and ODE didn’t receive any funding. Other avenues are now being looked into to accomplish those goals.

Shepard Demo Sneak Peak

Shepard Test Stand Close-up

Mach 30 is working with Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC) to kitify the Shepard Test Stand for use in STEM programs for schools. In addition, Mach 30 volunteers are working on upgrades to the Shepard Test Stand to make it easier to build and operate.

The open source Ground Station which was featured during the Yuri’s Night Celebration has developed into a low cost satellite receiver station.  This project has been well received, and discussions about kitifying it are in process.

Two of our volunteers are working with the board to update the website and improve our social media outreach. A new theme as well as a reorganization of its content are in the works.  Take a look below for a sneak peak at the new webpage.  It is hoped by mid-summer the website makeover will be complete.


Screenshot of new web page

Last year saw the launch of the Catalyst Club, Mach 30’s annual fundraising campaign.  Support from donors, especially Catalyst Club members, is essential to the continued growth of Mach 30 and the development of open source space flight projects.

The first six months of 2013 have been exciting. The changes that have begun and will continue may feel chaotic at this point. Yet they are necessary in the long run if Mach 30 is to grow. We hope you join us in our adventures to bring Open Source Space Flight to the world.


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Exploratory Learning

Everyone involved with Mach 30 is always learning and growing, whether it be from conversations on social media outlets like Facebook or Google+, activities like the book club , or our weekly Hangouts. Another way we learn is by simply doing. When we started our Shepard Test Stand hardware project, we weren’t exactly sure how things were going to work. There was no tried and true method for developing spaceflight hardware using a tool like Open Design Engine (ODE), and we knew there would be growing pains. That’s one of the many reasons we started with a small scale project like Shepard instead of tackling something bigger.

Our engineering process was largely created and refined during the course of that first test stand project, and is now being applied (and further refined) in the creation of our newest project – a satellite tracking Ground Station . One of the things that’s been most interesting to me to watch has been how certain pieces of a project are best developed. The first thing I noticed is that there is a lot of power in spinning up a forum post on a step in the design process and then letting the discussion take its own course. Using the ODE forums for the initial discussion has two main advantages that I see:

  1. It gives everyone a chance to participate. If we hold a Google+ Hangout at 5PM EST in the U.S. to do the design of a widget from scratch, people in other U.S. timezones (or parts of the world) may very well not get a chance to participate. Posting a step of the design process on the forums and then leaving it for a day or two, or until the discussion runs its course, allows more people to give their input.
  2. It gives everyone a chance to think. Sometimes you just need to sit on a thought for a day or two before your ideas really become clear. You might have even posted an idea to the forums earlier in a day, and then a better way of doing that thing, or a major flaw in your idea sends you right back to the forums to post a retraction or revision. Using this form of communication gives you that time to think.

In some cases, the forums are all you need to complete a step in our engineering process. For example, on the Ground Station project we were able to complete steps 1 through 3 of our engineering process without ever having a face-to-face meeting. In step 1 we answered the high level whys and hows of the project. Questions like “Why are we building this?” and “How is this going to be used?” are what we tackle here. Step 3 involves creating a diagram so that it’s easy to see all the parts of what we want to build and how they all fit together. Then step 2 of the engineering process, which involves creating requirements that use words like “must” and “shall”, naturally come out of step 1. Requirements create a measuring stick that helps us make sure a project is doing what it’s supposed to.

Now, all of that is not meant to give the idea that forums are the be-all and end-all of project communication. One you’ve had the initial discussions in the forums, we’ve found that it’s often best to do those “in person” meetings using tools like Google+ Hangouts to help solidify and finalize decisions. This seems to be especially important with things like mechanical, electrical, and software design which often are easier to finalize when discussed face to face. On our preliminary design for instance, which is where we come up with a rough idea of what parts we need for a project, we may start out in the forum to give everyone a chance to contribute, but then we hold a Hangout to finalize the preliminary design. We discuss in real-time what everyone has put forth in the forum and distill it all down to a plausible design.

We realize that our processes will continue to evolve and be refined as we continue our work to enable the human race’s journey to the stars. Each project we do brings with it new lessons and opportunities for growth both on a personal level, and an organizational one. We encourage you to join us as we grow towards completing our mission.

Just Launched: Open Design Engine Public Beta

Open Design Engine KickStarter Logo

Open Design Engine KickStarter Logo

We are very excited to announce the launch of the Open Design Engine (ODE) Public Beta. The road to get here ended up being a little longer than we expected, but we’re happy with the results. We could not have made this push to the finish without the help of Kevin Bouwkamp, Bryan Christian, and The School Factory, and we are grateful for their help in getting ODE safely off the launchpad. Self-registration for user accounts is now active, and we are ready for our next round of promotion for Open Design Engine. Please share this news on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and your own personal blogs (be sure to link to this post).

If you have not signed up for an account yet, please do so. Then, start a project on ODE to document one of your own Open Source Hardware creations. Don’t have a project yet? No problem. You can start one, or join one of the projects already in progress. Mach 30 currently has two projects that are active on ODE, the Shepard Test Stand and the Far Horizons High Altitude Balloon (HAB) project. We’re always looking for help, so feel free to Contact Us to see how you can get involved.

And this is just the beginning. We are already actively improving the site. For example, within the last 2 weeks Kevin completed the funding plugin, allowing users to insert Kickstarter badges and PayPal buttons into any field which supports wiki-syntax. What this means for you is that you can ask for help to fund your projects right from your ODE project pages. Future plans include adding support for integrated git repositories and major improvements to the user interface. As always, watch the roadmap to keep up with our plans and progress.

Thanks to all of our supporters, backers, kickstarters, and volunteers. We are looking forward to growing Open Design Engine into a great site for hosting open source hardware projects. And remember, Makers, document what you make.

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.