Tag Archives: Shepard Test Stand

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.

Introducing the Shepard Test Stand: Mach 30’s first Open Source Spaceflight Project

by Jeremy Wright, Innovations Technology Solutions, LLC

[Editors Note:  I’ve been asking you to be patient on the hardware front for years now, so believe me when I say words cannot capture how excited I am to introduce you to Jeremy Wright–a new Mach 30 volunteer and major contributor to our very first open source spaceflight hardware project.  Thank you Jeremy for taking us over the breach–and thank you, patient reader, for sticking with us through the “boring” parts.]

Shepard Test Stand Block Diagram

Mach 30’s Shepard Test Stand project has contributors spread over 4 U.S. states and 2 different time zones, so making sure that everyone gets a chance to leave their mark on the project can be a real challenge.  Add to that the fact that we’ll not only be exchanging ideas, but also things like drawings and source code, and the challenge gets even more interesting. This kind of collaboration is possible because of what Mach 30 is doing through the Open Design Engine.

On Shepard, we’ve started this collaborative process in the project’s forums and wiki by working on the why, who, and how questions that will guide us through the rest of the design process. These are seemingly simple questions like:

  • “Why are we building this?”
  • “Who’s going to use this?”
  • “What features does it need to have?”

However, without solid answers to these questions we run the risk, as contributors, of not all pulling in the same direction. As we head deeper into the project, these answers are being turned into a list of requirements that will keep us grounded and focused throughout the life of the project. That way we’re all on the same page, and when we get to the more exciting tasks of building and using the test stand, we’ll have our best shot at hitting the target. These requirements will start to pay off right away by informing the creation of the system block diagram, which is our next step.

If you haven’t yet, swing by opendesignengine.net and look over the Shepard Test Stand project. ODE will be moving into public beta soon, and we’d love to have the help of anyone who’s interested in moving humanity toward a space-faring future.

In short, “ad astra per civitatem” – to the stars through community