Tag Archives: Shepard Test Stand

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+.

Related Articles

Achievements Unlocked!

It’s been a very exciting month at Mach 30.  We have made amazing progress on the Shepard Test Stand, gotten accepted to speak at a conference, and exhibited at another.  If life were a video game, Mach 30’s volunteers and partners would have just earned a whole slew of achievements.   Check them out.

Replication – Have your OSHW project built by a third party

This month, the Coca Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC) became the first group outside Mach 30 to build a Shepard Test Stand. I am particularly pleased with this achievement since it is such a concrete demonstration of our open source principles at work.  Here’s CCSSC sharing it with us over a Google+ Hangout.

CCSSC's Own Shepard Test Stand

CCSSC’s Own Shepard Test Stand

I’m not the only one who is happy about this news.  Here’s what Matt Bartow, the educational services support specialist at CCSSC, had to say.

“Congratulations to all of you at Mach 30, because I know you were very excited about seeing the first one externally built.  It was a great success, and thank you for all your help through our build process.  We will start posting our data, and, as we begin using it for student educational programming, we will also be posting about that as well.

If you need anything at all, please let us know.  Thank you so much for letting us be a part of the Shepard Program, and we are very eager to watch as everything develops for the betterment of STEM education.”

Smoke and Fire – Complete first test firing of a rocket test stand

This achievement actually goes to our friends at CCSSC. Not only did they build their own copy of the Shepard Test Stand, but a few days later they successfully fired it. Plus they were able to collect data from their tests and as you can see below, it looks very good (the flat spot in the graph is from a known bug in the Data Acquisition (DAQ) software which should be fixed shortly). Congrats to CCSSC and the Shepard project team!

CCSSC Shepard Test Fire 1 - E12-8 engine

CCSSC Shepard Test Fire 1 – E12-8 engine

Spread the Word – Get accepted as a presenter at a conference

OSHW Logo - credit the Open Source Hardware Association

I am also happy to announce that Mach 30’s Export Control Task Force has had its presentation on Open Source Hardware and Export Controls accepted as a topic at the 2013 Open Hardware Summit in Boston. The format for the presentation is a 6+1 (6 minute presentation followed by 1 minute for questions). The task force is currently working on the presentation materials, which of course will be openly licensed. Stay tuned for more details.

Show and Tell – Attend a major conference as an exhibitor

To top off the month, I was able to attend New Space 2013 where I ran Mach 30’s booth. This is the first time Mach 30 has exhibited at a major space conference, though not our first exhibit experience (we have taken the Shepard Test Stand to both the Open Hardware Summit and a regional Maker Faire).  Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers, Mach 30’s booth included display materials and two hardware projects: Shepard and the first ground station prototype. Sadly, due to fire restrictions I was not able to run a test fire on Shepard at the conference.  But New Space and Mach 30 are already talking about what needs to be done to conduct test fires next year.

Look for a complete report on the conference later this week.

Related Articles

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.


Related Articles:

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.