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.
Today I had the chance to visit Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. I was there with my family, plus Andy Seely (who guided us there with his awesome wayfinding superpowers) and his two sons. It was an amazing time, and I want to write this down while it's fresh in my mind.
Side note: I don't have much in the way of pictures. There are lots of pictures that are much better than anything I'll be able to take, and I didn't want to be distracted from being there and really seeing what was in front of me.
First up was looking at the Mercury, Gemini and Agena rockets. It was incredible to see how small they were -- not just the capsules, but the rockets themselves. The only rocket we'd seen previously was the first successfully landed first stage of a Falcon 9, and these things were (I think) well under its height. And the size of the Mercury and Gemini capsules -- wow. I knew they were small, but this was just incredible. (Unfortunately, I didn't think to pay much attention to the Agena rocket -- it would have been interesting to look at it and think about the various EVAs the Gemini astronauts did when around it.)
Next up was the Atlantis Space Shuttle. It wasn't direct -- instead, like a theme park ride, there was a lineup (though, since we were there on a Wednesday, it was incredibly short), then a film, and then the great unveiling. And man...I did not anticipate being awed by a Shuttle, but I was. No offense to the shuttle; it's the Apollo missions that really awe me, and going to see Atlantis was more in the "Eh, we're here, why not?" category. But seeing it...WOW. It was amazingly big, and the way they've got it displayed -- horizontal, wings angled like it's banking in flight, cargo bay open -- really shows that off. I was awestruck.
One cool thing: Andy and I talked to the docent, who was a retired NASA employee. It turned out he had not only worked on certain Shuttle subsystems (hydrogen tanks, IIRC) but had also been involved in the canceled Resource Prospector mission, a rover that would have gone to the moon to pave the way for ISRU. Once he figured out we were space nerds that he could geek out in front of, he talked in depth about the work he was doing, the pain of seeing the mission cancelled, and some frank talk about SLS and commercial options. It was fascinating. KSC has a "Lunch with an Astronaut" program...which should thrill me to death, but for some reason does not. I'd totally go for a "Take a Docent to Lunch" program though. (Still don't understand this part of my brain; I think both could talk in equally technical depth about their work, and I think both would be fascinating.)
After that we went through the Shuttle Launch Experience; it was fun for me, but my youngest son found it pretty scary, so that wasn't good. (I think he's pretty much put off on the idea of ever going to space now.) After that, lunch...and then...
...the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour, which took us by the Vehicle Assembly Building, Historic Launch Pad 39A, and some other launch pads as well (39B, maybe? my memory is already gone.) This was interesting, but seeing everything from such a distance made it hard to get a sense of scale. I was disappointed that the SpaceX Falcon 9 for Merah Putih was not out...but now that I check the launch calendar, I see that it has been delayed again 'til August 7th. Boo.
The KSC bus tour drops you off at the Apollo/Saturn V center; again, you have to go through a film (interesting), then sit in the Firing Room (launch control for the Apollo missions) to watch another film (mildly interesting) before you get to the meat of the center: the Saturn V mounted on its side, where you can walk underneath it and see just how freaking HUGE this thing is. It was jaw-dropping. This was the awe I expected, and it in no way disappointed. Walking out under the F1 engines was incredible...and only beat by walking the length of the rocket to see the incredibly tiny (by comparison) command module up at the very top.
And the only thing that beat that was a lunar module hanging from the ceiling. It had been built for Apollo 15, but was replaced by a newer module. It was amazing to see it, to see how simultaneously big and tiny it was.
After that, we caught the bus back to the main visitor center. We bought souvenirs, and drove off to return to Tampa. (Another side note: Orlando traffic is truly shitty.)
So. What to say about all this?
Seeing these things is like going to church. I'm staunchly atheist, but I'm pretty sure that the sense of awe and wonder and grandeur and tearing up and wanting to cry is a decent approximation of what a devout person feels approaching the holy.
At the same time, it's hard for me to not notice all the Wondrous! Space! Music! that's playing everywhere. It is stirring! and uplifting! and like eating an inspiration sundae every 15 minutes! By which I mean it's cloying after a while!
I dropped a stupid amount of money at the souvenir shop, knowing full well what I was doing and doing it anyway.
I tried hard not to be a full nerd, but it was hard not to cringe every time something mentioned SLS launching in 2018, JWST launching in 2019, the Asteroid Redirect Mission or the Journey to Mars. (If you're not a space nerd: those are either optimistic schedules that have been overtaken by events, or NASA goals that were given to them by one administration and removed by another. And for the record, I would LOVE it if all those things were to happen on time.)
There was a woman wearing a ULA hat and a Parker Space Probe hat. I complimented her on both, and it turns out she's on the integration team for the PSP, and was there with her family on a tourist outing in the middle of her work. I shook her hand and wished her the best of luck with the launch.
There is a lot of "Thank you for your service" aimed at military service people in the US. This can extend to things like "...and here's 10% off your next mattress purchase." This strikes me as a bit over the top...but I still wanted to thank the NASA docent for their service to, I guess, humanity.
I could totally see myself coming back and spending a few days visiting this place alone. I felt the same way when I visited the Grand Canyon.
I am extremely grateful to family and friends for coming along with me. These things are neat, but like anything else they are not everyone's cup of tea.
The bus tour is fun...but the videos they play on the bus are a way of passing the time during what is a very long drive between interesting things.
I'd love to see the VAB from the inside to get a better sense of scale.
The souvenir shop had prints of Apollo 11 pictures signed by Buzz Aldrin for $1800 each. I was tempted.
A few weeks back, it looked like there was a good chance that 2 rockets would be lifting off around this time. That has not happened. In a way, I'm grateful...this was already a long day, and I think adding a launch to it would only have made it longer (or pushed other stuff to a future visit.)
Let's see if this still works....yep, apparently, it does.
Got my ham license in March -- my callsign is VA7UNX. I got Basic with Honours, which in Canada means you get to use the HF bands. I've picked up a used Elecraft K2, and have been mainly working QRP out of parks and trying to figure out antenas. I've made a handful of contacts on SSB to Oregon and Washington during the 7QP contest, and just last week made my first CW QSO to N6RNP in Chico, California (1050km!).
At Hamvention I picked up an Arrow II antenna from the AMSAT folks, plus a spare Baofeng (at $25, why the heck not?) and have been trying to work satellites. No luck yet, but efforts continue.
I'm going to be attending the Open Source Cubesat Workshop in Madrid this September, kinda-sorta as part of the Phase 4 Ground project. This blows my mind.
I've put in an order for most of the parts for a SatNOGS rotator. They're slowly trickling in, and hopefully I can get something working by the fall.
There will be a trip to Tampa this summer to visit my good friend Andy Seely.
Now back to cleaning up the house in preparation for my parent's visit.
Well, that happened. Tuesday night I went to bed hoping for better news. I woke up at 2.30am, unable to sleep; after a while I gave up and came down. Still no good news. President Trump it is, help us all.
But. This morning there was an ISS flyover, and a rare semi-clear sky to see it. So I fired up the ISS HDD viewer on my laptop, went outside, and watched the sun rise from the ISS while I watched it fly overhead, a wonder heading for the dawn.
I'd just like to point out Matt Simmon's blog post on what's gonna happen when NASA launches Orion on its first flight. I'm pretty damn jealous he's been invited to attend, but I can't think of a better writer to cover it. Word up, Mr. Simmons.
Stardust, a short film about Voyager by PostPanic. It's beautiful, though part of me is annoyed at the visual cliches (scratchy film effect, jumpy camera effect, short and rapidly shifting depth of focus effect). But still, beautiful.
C. Titus Brown on codes of conduct. Two excerpts:
I came to PyCon with two women colleagues, one of whom was harassed nearly constantly by men, albeit on a low level. Both of them are friendly people who are willing to engage at both a personal and a technical level with others, and apparently that signals to some that they can now feel free to comment on "hotness", proposition them, and otherwise act like 14 year old guys. As one friend said, (paraphrased) "I'd be more flattered that they seem to want to sleep with me, if they'd indicated any interest in me as a human being -- you know, asked me why I was at PyCon, what I did, what I worked on, what I thought about things. But they didn't."
As a community, we need to change the way we treat women, because my daughters will TASER YOU ALL INTO OBLIVION in 10-20 years if we don't.
but I was finally able to track down the original for this picture. It's absolutely amazing...just like this and this. Strange how you change. I used to read and re-read Huckleberry Finn 'til I wore out my copy, wishing I could've lived in 19th century America. Now I'm afraid I (or my species) won't live long enough to get into space, and wish I could be part of some grand colonizing effort.