Last week I was incredibly privileged to attend the Open Source Cubesat Workshop, held at the European Space Agency Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid. I was there as a volunteer for Phase 4 Ground, an open source amateur radio project, along with project leader Michelle Thompson and open-source figurehead (and, with Michelle, founder of the Open Research Institute) Bruce Perens.
The conference took place over two days. Doesn't seem like much time, does it? But there is a LOT to tell about the conference. To hit the highlights:
The conference organizers were incredibly warm and generous, and made it clear that there's room for everyone in the open source space community -- not just aerospace engineers. (There's hope for me yet!)
Presenters covered a wide range of work: everything from fully open source cubesat missions, to open source software libraries for flight dynamics, to proposals for new (and larger) modular satellite platforms. Attendees included everyone from university students and researchers, to members of national space agencies (often with open source projects to share), to open source volunteers, to librarians and archivists intent on preserving everyone's work.
Capacity building was a big theme. The Argentinian Club de Robotica was there to present a ground-based cubesat designed to teach design principles for real space missions, with the goal of creating the capacity and desire in Argentina for a cubesat mission of their own. Also on hand was Rakesh Prajapati from Nepal, speaking about the Poquetcube mission his foundation is creating in his country.
I participated in two workshops. The first focused on the role of Python in space; the second on how (or even whether) to improve the PC104 standard so often used in cubesats. Being a fly on the wall for these discussions was fascinating, and gave me a better idea of the strengths and limitations of the tools the community has. Did everything get settled? Of course not! But it was illuminating to see the difference in approach between hardware and software, where the costs and benefits of customization can vary so much.
And as with any great conference, the hallway track was a delight. Being able to discuss integration problems on cubesat missions from the researchers involved was amazing; so was talking with someone investigating whether AI can be integrated into cubesats; so was hearing people from different open source projects meet for the first time, and compare notes about generating community involvement.
All in all, it was energizing to be around so many people with similar interests. I'm hoping to be able to participate in some very interesting projects, as well as re-dedicate time to participation in others.
This has been sitting in my "Composing" queue long enough, so it's time to send this out the door; impressions of Madrid (it's beautiful!) will have to wait. My full notes (warning: infodump) can be found on the Phase 4 Ground Github repository.