Friday, 4 August 2017

Inspace One 3rd Aug 2017

So last night I ran a space workshop, inspired by some of the stuff I heard at the UK space conference earlier in the year I decided it was about time I started to push myself to try and get a few more people possibly interested in space stuff locally. I am really passionate about the fact that I think a lot of people think the space sector is less accessible than it really is!

So kindly NorthWales Technology  (a meetup organisation for North Wales technologists of all flavours) hosted me and negotiated a space within Pontio Innovation, and also arranged out fabulous event sponsor S2recruitment who paid for a mass of pizza and refreshments.

So about 25 people turned up and I started of with some slides about the different routes I have come across that different individuals, startups or not for profits I've linked into have taken into getting into the space sector. I also looked at how these entities had funded their activities (from bootstrapping/crowdfunding, angel/VC, European space agency funding applications and finally through winning funding through competitions!).  We then spent the best part of 3 hours exploring the Astrosat and Huntsville CountyChamber competition that sits within the range of competitions currently running in the Space Exploration Masters program which is headed by AZO and ESA.

We looked at the Dream Chaser vehicle and the competition requirements that state that they are looking for commercial applications for dream chaser that use the platform beyond current earth observation and crew and cargo resupply missions and develop “space as service” ideas around themes of wider exploration of the universe, interplanetary, moon, mars missions etc. I armed the participants with some dream chaser plans, 3d printed models and a heap of pens and paper and off we went!

The ideas within this really wonderful varied cohort of people were fabulous and everyone really entered into the spirit of the evening... I'd love to give a complete list of the fascinating ideas that arose but frankly there were too many! However here are a few I recall...

  • Flat pack space laboratories, Dream Chasers are used to deploy and equip expanding LEO laboratories to allow scaling of microgravity research.
  • Multiple dream chasers as a wide reconfigurable interferometry platform for deep space exploration/measurement/telescopy.
  • Dream chaser as Biological lab allowing remote un-crewed safe environment for experiments using volatile/toxic/bacteria etc.
  • Space ark... an off world seed bank.
  • Dream chaser as Bio lab exploring biofuel using the different decay rates of organic material on orbit.
  • Dream chaser mission for 200 commercial cubesats to be flown to the moon.
  • Using SLA 3d printing and dream chaser to enable new 3d SLA techniques to be used as Dream chaser could create different gravity/reaction at differing parts of the print process.
  • Dreamchaser in LEO as Deployer for interplanetary cubesat missions.
  • A Dreamchaser dock in LEO, a multifaceted structure with an IBDM berthing docking ring on each face, inside a robotic system acts as cargo shifter to allow exchange of cargo/fuel/equipment between Dream Chaser allowing flexibility in usage.
  • Space recovery, Using dream chaser to de-orbit space debris but rather than burning up in atmosphere debris could be sold into the high value space collectors market.
  • Dreamchaser space burial!
  • Dreamchaser space prison (although we all thought this would encourage crime)!
  • Space tourism..... but dream chaser would need windows!

And many many more! We finished off the evening with a quick look at how people entered the competition and what details the competition required for entry. So, finally, I think everyone had a good time, apparent both in the room and also on twitter on the hashtag #inspaceone, I got this lovely tweet which really made my day as reducing barriers to space is exactly what I was aiming for!

And finally this lovely bit of written feedback... and yes... here's looking forward to Inspace Two!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Liverpool Makefest 2017

So here is my quick picture dump post from Liverpool Makefest 2017. I was there showing some rockets and satellites stuff and had a great spot as the first stall in the foyer so got to tell everyone a bit about how much fab stuff there was to see and do as well as talk rockets/space/satellites.

I had a great time and didn't take much time off my stall to walk around as I was enjoying myself.. on a quick break (cheers Crew members who covered my stall) I  ran round and took a few quick snaps... not great but give you a flavour of the day. Hats and caps doffed to the mighty Liverpool crew who put this all together.. top work...

Above.. my stall all set up!

Reception soon filled up!

Central library is such a good building! 

A group showing amateur radio tech and operation on the 4th floor terrace, great to see!

Top floor pilot a drone (with code) workshop!

Loadsa stuff happening on the top floor!

The mighty RC2014!

The CPC makerspace massive..

Very cool drone rover with thermal imaging... Nice chassis!

Still loads of people ... all day!

An absolute pleasure for me to meet these guys from the Librespace foundation.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

UK space conference part 3, Makers...(and Space Materials)

So probably my final post on the UK space conference 2017 as time is moving on! So during my time in the exhibition hall I saw some amazing technologies on display and also learnt of some amazing processes ranging from unit testing embedded systems, through new initiatives to make micro gravity science more accessible on the ISS through to the hydroxide-catalysis/silicate bonding of optical elements to a (beautiful) optical bed as part of the Lisa pathfinder interferometer pictured above.

It struck me as I walked around talking to everyone that it is JUST like a maker fair (but perhaps with less LEDs!) There are stalls that are purely outreach like the fantastic BIS, stalls selling tools, stalls selling measuring equipment, a vast majority of stalls showing and telling about their projects...

And the projects.. well they are super high tech and cutting edge a lot of the time..but although cutting edge often are they are essentially embedded systems..sensors and microprocessors with radios and antennas and power sytems...all classic maker fair projects!

These thoughts crystalised when I spoke (numerous times they were probably sick of me!) to the Ed Fagan booth, Ed Fagan are a global company that specialise in sourcing and supplying specialist alloys to the space industry. The first of which I heard about was 'Ultra 36' being discussed in a presentation by Chris Mahn.

 Frankly he had my attention just at the name as it sounds like a material from the marvel universe! On the stand we spoke about many of Ed Fagan metal products, Invar, Kovar, Ultra 36, they are materials with special properties such as special thermal properties. Objects in low earth orbit (ie satellites or the ISS) face a huge temperature range, for example without any thermal conditioning the ISS would range between plus 250 degrees celsius and minus 250 degress celsius so some of these special alloys are used as they contract and expand very little which is important as if something expands it might create a differential to the material it is attached too and cause it to fail.  Ultra 36 is an Iron, Nickel and Silica alloy useful for its low CTE (co-efficient of thermal expansion) and was developed as a partnership between Aerospace Metal Composites and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and the amazing James Webb telescope contains 429kg of this fascinating material.

But again, talking to the men and women on the Ed Fagan booth what struck me was how like a conversation at a maker fair it was.. we discussed how it machined, what kind of tooling you need, what feeds and speeds you might use, a maker contact on twitter asked if it could be 3d printed?  We discussed that it couldn't as due to the way the structure of the alloy is achieved it can only be cold worked. I've had such similar discussions about..which nozzle to 3d print a certain filament or what feed for a laser to get the best cut on ply what angle tool for engraving a single side PCB.. again.. we are all makers...and makers... do some space stuff!

Its left me with a desire to try and track down a small bit of one of these fancy alloys to play with and machine.. so Ed Fagan thanks again for your time.. and feel free to send me a sample!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

UK space conference part 2, Thoughts on Launch Development and Wales.

So part 2 . In this post I want to focus on the topics of UK launch provision and then focus in on some ideas for Wales... which could also equate to anywhere in the UK but Wales is where I live and I would love to see more space/astro/aero sector stuff happening! So I attended a plenary where all the speakers were talking about UK launch services, of course the space port licensing and development were discussed, but also the launch vehicles required for a space port where spoken about. The take away point for me was that although it may be possible to have some form of proto space port under way by the targeted year 2020 having a UK based and developed launch vehicle/s/system is very unlikely.

Any company bringing a launch vehicle online in this time frame would have to be at the stage of test launches (ahem Rocketlabs) now. The elephant in the room was that I don't think the UK is attractive to any of the larger players/primes involved in developing launch vehicles, vertical rockets or horizontal space plane. The challenges politically and the uncertainty of trade agreements due to Brexit are part of this, but also we are limited by our position on the planet, launch to LEO will be inefficient and whilst polar orbits may be achievable I think the larger players will look for easier sites.

The second takeaway point I took from the plenary is that all speakers agreed there were astonishing opportunities particularly for SME's to be disruptive in this sector in the UK. Launch providers are historically notoriously difficult to make profit in, are high risk and technically challenging, but these complexities, if embraced correctly, also provide the most opportunity for impact and innovation.

So here is my take on a possible progression route in Wales...

I think we need to play a longer game, I would love to see some energies focus on developing home grown launch vehicles, as mentioned, we are never going to hit the 2020 target, but could be a part of the 2030 target of the UKgarnering 10% of the expected £400 billion global spaceeconomy. I believe we need to invigorate ideas, explore bootstrapping and grass roots development and as such I look to numerous places for inspiration.

Firstly my recent trip to talk about Pocketqube satellite chassis development at the Delft Technical University also included a visit to the DARErocketry team . Basically they are well funded by sponsorship (3M, SAFRAN,ALTIUM, ANSYS, TUDelft and many more) and run a fascinating program which emulates the professional sector in that they hold contracts to supply rockets for programs like the CANSAT program, the program turns out fantastic young scientists and engineers who have a heap of very real industry experience and creates great vehicles which have held world records in altitude in non commercial flights. Having visited the team their energy and enthusiasm is as infectious and as inspiring as the IP developed and the learning undertaken.

A program like DARE in Wales could be achieved across the Universities or indeed could be formed privately in terms of an SME with commercial aims as well as an educative mission campaign. CANSAT type programs could be linked into school, colleges and voluntary sector STEM/STEAM orgs. There are numerous things in place already that would support it. For example, I've recently took a position on the council of the UK Rocketry Association , who manage insurance and accreditation for those wishing to fly high power larger rockets in the UK up with up to O impulse solid or hybrid motors. As well as accreditation, a technical safety panel and other services, we offer a program called “team rocket support”  which supports and guides teams wishing to build rockets at the top end of these impulse levels (level 3 certified). UKRA also has measures to streamline the number of people on teams who need to be accredited in order for a team to fly. For a developmental launch vehicle program I believe this is invaluable and provides easy to reach high altitude experimental platforms/sounding rockets within reach building not only technical expertise, but building the narrative of Wales in space.

Secondly the top image on this post is taken from the exhibition stand from Wales Aerospace and shows the unlimited ceiling de restricted airspace sat next to Wales, this provides huge possibilities for both horizontal launch and vertical. With the recent development of sea launch by organisations such as Copenhagen Sub Orbitals  (as well as Space X) I think this could provide a safe and exciting test bed area for launches prior to land based launches.

As ever, feel free to disagree... but I hope this post stimulates discussion and hopefully inspires some movement, action and progression.

In future posts I plan to talk about satellite developments that have already happened in Wales and also those organisations and companies that could easily mobilise in this sector and also about some fascinating materials I learnt about at the UK space conference. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

UK Space Conference part 1, Copernicus

If you follow me on twitter it won't be news to you that last week I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the mighty Zero Dependency to go to the 3 day UK Space Conference. I had an amazing time and there was a bewildering amount of stuff to see and hear and I'm going to share a few posts of curated bits and pieces I took away from it.

One of the first talks I went to was by Georgy Dean from Astrosat talking about the Copernicus Masters program, the ESA Copernicus  program is astonishing. Within the Copernicus mission three satellites Sentinel 1,2 and 3 are currently on orbit and have a wide range of sensors and imaging equipment doing earth observation. Every time they pass over the EU region they complete a full capture of all the sensors... and all this data is opensource. That’s an amazing amount of data that anyone can use and use cases were shown from local authorities looking at the change in green zones around cities to flood management research.

The Copernicus masters program seeks to maximise the impact the mission can have by promoting Copernicus data and enticing people to consider innovative uses for it in creating applications.
Joining the Copernicus masters competition means people can get a whole heap of support through from the program with regular series of online webinars and other support activities. There are competitions and funding opportunities for those creating interesting applications. In the closing part of Georgy’s talk it was notable that she felt that (due to the overwhelming amount of data available from Copernicus) the future of tackling this big data will possibly lie in the creative application of machine learning and AI.. so if you are into open data, big data and neural networks... get stuck in!

Stay tuned for part 2... when I get chance!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Bracketless Pocketqube Chassis Concept

I've been meaning to post about this since I went to Delft to talk about it but only got round to it now, despite the fact that the chassis I made to demonstrate this idea (pictured) currently sits in Switzerland en route to travel to Kathmandu this weekend to hopefully inspire engineers in the Orion Space program.

So I've been asked to machine a few Pocketqube chassis from square tubular stock, lots of people in the community seem to favour a tubular chassis approach as it has lots of strength and it has some shielding and thermal benefits over PCB construction. Invariably being asked to make skeletonised tube chassis  has led to also being asked to make tiny brackets that will attach end plates to it. Now ... it's certainly possible to do this but it takes a lot of time and may not be too accurate. Time wise it is tricky because .. well.. its fiddly... work holding such tiny items is a pain and when multiplied by a minimum of 8 brackets it loses all sense of fun! The other issue is they are difficult to make accurately.. so for the uninitiated in metal working, when you buy a square rod of say 6mm aluminium its surface finish will be OK for most things.. but for assembling something critical like a satellite end plate to the chassis it needs to have a good surface finish so that the bracket face sits flush onto the interior wall or walls of the chassis tube. This means that really for an 6mm bracket (L shaped or a 3 wall/surface design or just a cube with tapped holes) you really need to machine each of the mating faces which means you need to start off with probably 7/8mm stock and do a lot more operations. Finally the other consideration though is that the internal finish of the chassis will not be very precise either and will require spot facing (a small machining pass that levels the surface finish) but as this will be on an internal face (and usually in a corner) machining is often not an option.

This can lead to inaccuracies such as the bracket not sitting flush into the corner as shown (obviously not quite as dramatic as this in real life!) such as in the image below. This issue will reduce strength and particularly will cause issues when we consider that a M2 bolt with a 0.4mm pitch threaded into this bracket may only have 3 or 4 turns of thread to go into and at an angle the thread contact area will be reduced weakening the clamping effect and increasing forces onto the chassis and end plate.
So to overcome some of these problems I've developed an idea for a bracket less PQ chassis, simpler to machine, possibly stronger and also certainly more flexible in terms of mount points for internal or external components. My first prototype also adheres to the PQ60 specification. 

So basically the chassis is a tube design mounted to the base plate with a stack of PQ60 PCB mounted through the tube on threaded bars. Into either end of the tube a 1mm escutcheon is milled to a depth of 1.6mm allowing each end of the tube to receive (a light press fit) an FR4/PCB end plate. 

8 standoffs are made to be attached to the ends of threaded bars and these receive the bolts through the larger end plates. The making of these standoffs is much easier than brackets as they only require the mating face to be machined/cut square and to a reasonable surface finish, in fact if you drill the hole through the stock first I used a very fine slitting saw in the milling machine that cut these to a satisfactory finish with no further operations.
The stack assembly gives a benefit that the 2 end plates are pulled into the structure and (whilst I need to test on a vibration table) intuitively this seems very strong. 

Essentially as the internal stack floats in the tube this approach also maximises what can be done to the chassis tube, although in my prototype the skeletonisation is minimal any point of the structure (apart from the area surrounding the end plate) can indeed be skeletonised or used as a mount point. This is also true of the base plate as now fixings can be made at any point in the base plate creating maximum flexibility of the structural design. 
As ever, feel free to use any of these ideas and or get in touch if you need a chassis construction making. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

MakerSpaceGate part deux!

So after Makerspacegate part 1, I made contact with a few different IP specialists and today I had an interesting phone call discussing how the Maker community might protect the terms Makerspace and Hackspace… For what it’s worth here are the take away notes I took from todays call...

My take away notes are;

  • If we attempted to protect Makerspace or Hackspace it would be a collective mark we would be applying for as an ordinary trademark distinguishes goods and services of a single trader/entity. (more info about collective trademarks here
  • To do this we would need a legal entity (could be a company, an individual or a charity etc) 
  • The entity would need to have a set of rules that dictate what needs to be in place to allow usage of the terms,
  • User of the term would then need to be members of the collective
  • The actual applications would take around an couple of ours of work and cost up to £800 for UK and Europe (possibly around 200 for UK only and it is not completely clear atm how brexit will effect european trademarking)
  • Defending collective trademarks if needed would be costly.
  • Gratnells application (as they say they instructed their legal team last week) should reasonably be removed in around a months time... we need to be vigilant that they follow through.
  • If Gratnells had succeeded and not agreed to withdraw the TM's then we could have argued (in court) that they had been registered in bad faith..... however costs++++++++ :(

Finally... its almost a shame that we didn't get to challenge the application as we could have argued that these terms were not distinctive and in common parlance which if successful would have sorted the problem out once and for all!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017


Earlier this week I was in a twitter conversation stemming from the age old debates around terms and naming of spaces (makerspaces hackspaces, hackerspaces, fablab, innovation spaces etc) and what they mean to different parts of maker culture in terms of openness. During this I discovered that a UK company Gratnells had applied for a UK and Europe trademark on "Makerspace".

I obviously felt strongly that this was not a good move for the maker communities which include many vol orgs, public sector, education and companies that widely use this term. So I began to challenge it. I'm writing this blog to state what actions I took, what others did and the outcomes, in case this needs to happen again. Although (as I'll reveal later in the post) the outcome of this episode was positive, I'm not saying that this forms a recipe for successfully challenging this stuff... it's just what I did and I present most of it without comment..

So firstly.. I remained polite and questioned publicly on twitter why Gratnells were trying to trademark this term and used some hashtags to try and get maker accounts to share this. I felt it was important to set the tone of this tweet as stern and concerned but not aggressive. (I think us passionate maker types can be a bit prone to grumpy swipes ...certainly true of me at times) 

I also behind the scenes Direct Messaged (DM'd) a group of key people who actively tweet stuff relating to Makers to try and build awareness that there might be an issue. Lots of retweets then occurred and people started talking to me in DM about this.

Interestingly in the space of an hour I had been put in contact with 2 Intellectual Property (IP) specialists and had offers for connections to others.

I also (again behind the scenes) contacted 4 larger companies who Gratnells supply too.. Now.. I did this as the companies are companies who have supported and financially sponsored different maker events I felt that they needed fair warning that this situation might result in some conflict between the communities and them down the line...and obviously I am keen to see companies continue to sponsor stuff!  

Interestingly I also got contacted by 3 university based innovation spaces I have contact with from around the UK who were asking to be kept in the loop and also 2 of which wanted my opinion on whether the trademark would effect their usage of the term makerspace in their branding. This was of note to me in terms of the origin of this whole issue was in a debate around the usage of the term an access to spaces for different parts of the community.

So by the end of the day Gratnells responded to my tweet and stated they would not be defending the trademark and would issue a statement on their website the flowing day.. which they duly did here.

Finally it seemed prudent (and was advised) to archive the Gratnells response page and related tweets in case they are removed in the future which has been done and indeed I've got a few people involved to do this as well for redundancy.
So there we go... MakerspaceGate.. It throws up some interesting points for the global maker culture about protecting our assets and as ever about openness and the naming of spaces. I was heartened to see that Gratnells responded to this promptly and in good faith and I am now quite enamoured with Gratnells storage solutions which still remain available from many maker supporting businesses!

So Hackaday have picked up on the story (interestingly they were tagged in on twitter but didn't respond or get involved but then someone submitted the story to them via the tips channel) Their post is here. Also the mighty Marc Barto has blogged citing some of the options we might have had to take had Gratnells not de-escalated their position as quickly. Marcs post here.

Props to @chickengrylls @carwynedwards @iamclarec @marcbarto for really getting stuck in and networking me into people who might have helped had this gone further... top stuff. 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Delft trip part 3.... DARE Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering.

So. I am very much of the opinion "If you don't ask you don't get" and on the last day of my trip to Delft (part 1 blog here and part 2 blog here) I decided to walk back to the TUDelft campus and do some maths work for an hour in the amazing library and then see if I could find the DARE rocket facility and take a picture of the door or something! When I got to DARE however I could see that although it was a Sunday afternoon a few team members were in working in the facility. So... I rang the doorbell!

I explained to the friendly face of Bastiaan (Chief of Structures on Stratos III) that I had been over to attend and do a talk at the pocketqube workshop and that I was a rocket builder and a member of the  UK Rocketry Association UKRA and cheekily asked if I might peek in their facility and take a photo or 2. Rather brilliantly Bastiaan said yes.. and took a half hour out of his day to blow the mind of a rocketry guy from North Wales!

So above is a picture of Stratos II (so big it lives in a 3 storey stairwell!) which until very recently held the European altitude record for a none commercial rocket reaching 21.5 km in October 2015.

Stratos II from the second floor level!

Stratos II on the top floor! Actual flight payload section that held the record.

In the smaller Lab facility we looked at first. Part of the Aether airframe (Aether is a supersonic technology demonstrator project for DARE).

So many rocket parts everywhere I didn't know where to look! Lovely fin assemblies.

In the foyer of the laboratory this phalanx of rockets.. most destined for CANSAT duties but the one closest part of an active rocket stabilisation exploration project.

Nice 3d printed canard fins.

The cansat payload bays, each shelf takes 2 cansats, the deployer mechanism for the cansats is all mechanical rather than using an explosive charge, this means that the school teams who have built the cansats can be safely part of the integration process as well.

We then went to visit the machine shop..... My goodness... what a well specified space! Nice to see they had some similar EMCO's as the ones I trained on a while back. There was also paint rooms, welding bays, and composite rooms etc. Stunning.

Even in the machine shop there were rockets everywhere!

This was a rocket engine test stand, around 2metres in length.

Some of the stock ready to be turned into oxidiser tanks.

Massive, beautifully turned graphite nozzles and also mixer pieces.  These are around 25cm diameter for scale.

I need a lathe about this size in my life.

So.. there we go. I am still grinning about this visit! My final thoughts for this post are how can we get rocketry to this sort of level in the UK? I'd give a lot to see this. Thank you for letting me visit DARE you do amazing work, best wishes for success in all your varied projects.

Delft trip part 2.. HOLY NERDVANA!

So.. at the end of Delft trip Part 1 having spoken about the Pocketqube Workshop I alluded at the end that some of us went on a trip to see the groundstation setup on the top of the TUDelft building. It was so impressive but then our volunteer guide Kris casually said we might like to see the technology archive in the basement... It's fair to say we were all glad we went.. It is astonishing.

We were led through room after room of technology all beautifully curated and displayed and catalogued.. not normally open to the public it was explained that this was a technical archive but NOT a museum.. meaning anything could be touched and operated.  Completely run by volunteers I can't say how impressive it was enough! Massive photo dump below really doesn't do it justice. (Photo above...Loved spotting these early MIT books on the extensive bookshelves!)

The alley of oscilloscopes... 
This was one side of the original Heinrich Hertz experiment which discovered radio waves! A high frequency generator produced an arc and this is received on the other side of the experiment by a small neon tube... of course Having discovered radio waves Hertz famously said they would be of no use!

Early gyroscopic compass (about a metre tall!)

Lovely archive of old poster displays everywhere also!

Radios, pwer supplys, swr's much kit!

Pascal... An enormous analogue calculator/computer...

My most favouritest switch ever... I suggested they should have all the archive lighting wired to this. :)

So many gauges (I have a small collection!) This Harland all the way from my home city.

Computer alley!

Be still my beating heart....

1.5 metre tall HDD anyone?