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NASA Space Technology

NASA Ares Rocket Specs to Be Open Source 116

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the so-we-can-all-see-what-we-can't-afford-to-build dept.
Bruce writes "As a step toward returning to the moon, NASA announced last week that Boeing will be the lead contractor for the Ares I rocket. Interestingly, Popular Mechanics reports that the system's specifications will be 'open-source and non-proprietary' to encourage competition on future contracts."
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NASA Ares Rocket Specs to Be Open Source

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  • by Chairboy (88841) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @05:11PM (#21756468) Homepage
    If nano-technology reaches the point where we can program assemblers to take local materials and build structures from electronic plans, what are the implications to space travel?

    Imagine, for instance, if someone could take a box of Rocketbuilders out to an island somewhere and deploy it, then sit back as the nanocites build a metal extraction plant, extracted the materials it could get from the sand/ground, built pipes into the sea to process metals that are there, etc. It'd build a gantry, then assemble a rocket from specs and finally fuel it from hydrogen and oxygen cracked from the water.

    An open source rocket would be a neat, easy way to get a good start for a project to create the instructions for these assemblers. I figured the big open source project when this technology came onto the scene would be digitizing and CAM'ing the specs for, say, the Saturn V (moon rocket). Make it easy enough to grow these launchers, and folks could launch prefabbed housing and supplies no problem. Just find the right spot, maybe rent an acre of seafront property with no downrange population, and go for it.

    Sure, it's fantasy at this point, but who knows? This is a shot across the bow for folks that are inevitably going to say "This is a stupid idea. What use is an open source rocket if you aren't a huge government or company with a bajillion dollars/euros/rubles to spend?".

    Sure, maybe the reward isn't obvious now, but what about sometime in the near future?
  • Watch what you say there, because the shuttle's software code is some of the best stuff out there, given that it is multiply redundant, and hasn't had a major failure that I know of, ever. The shuttle software team is known for doing code reviews at a level that most companies I know of can only dream of -- I remember an article several years ago that showed their code to be provably bug free at a something like 3-4 bugs per 500,0000 lines of code.

    What seems cool about "open source" relative to this project is that it may make the specifications much more solid in all areas (any interested engineer can spot problems or suggest enhancements, not just NASA paid engineers, but at the same time I doubt that all of the rocket specs CAN be fully open sourced, because if you can put a rocket into space with sufficient accuracy to put a manned craft into lunar orbit, you can also put a warhead on that same rocket and plop it with decent accuracy anywhere in the world.

    Which, given the rogue elements in our world and a number of fairly rich folks willing to fund the rogues, is, as you might surmise, NOT A GOOD THING.

  • by georgewilliamherbert (211790) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @05:39PM (#21756892)
    The part that NASA is (purportedly, I haven't seen the contracts / specs yet) making open is the avionics architecture, the control computers, attitude and position sensors (GPS, Inertial navigation gyros, etc), and the software and physical network interconnects.

    This isn't the rocket motors or physical stages. They want people to be able to propose upgraded computer systems, gyros, GPS units, etc. without having to rebuild the whole guidance system from scratch. So you make it modular, you use a technology like Avionics Full-Duplex Ethernet as the networking PHY and Datalink layers, you specify a realtime IP stack and the higher level protocols to use for transmitting status and position and control codes, etc.

    Having to maintain 40-year-old computer and navigation equipment designs for the Space Shuttle has made everyone open to the idea of modular, upgradable, scalable, etc...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @08:01PM (#21758720)

    China has something orbiting the moon as we speak, the US can't keep their shuttle program straight.

    That's a disingenuous comparison, since China doesn't have anything even remotely similar to our shuttle program. They're certainly growing, but they've got a long ways to go to even rival Russia's diminished program. We "can't keep our shuttle program straight" yet the shuttle launches 3-4 times per year, with 7 people and up to 50,000 pounds of cargo. The Chinese have launched 2 missions in 4 years with a total of 3 taikonauts. Soyuz also flies 2-3 times per year with three people.

    The Chinese have a small probe orbiting the moon, which is great for them. It's a major step forward for their program. However, we have a much larger double mission to the moon preparing for launch next year. We have a probe orbiting Saturn and two orbiting Mars. We have one on the way to Mercury and another trucking along all the way to Pluto, not to mention two on the surface of Mars and another on the way. Don't forget a mission to visit an asteroid, and two comet probes which just finished their missions and are preparing for bonus missions, and the Voyagers. We also have four major space telescopes operating (Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, SOHO).

    China's got quite a ways to go before those spades prove to be a straight flush.

  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @08:57PM (#21759326)

    Watch what you say there, because the shuttle's software code is some of the best stuff out there, given that it is multiply redundant, and hasn't had a major failure that I know of, ever. The shuttle software team is known for doing code reviews at a level that most companies I know of can only dream of -- I remember an article several years ago that showed their code to be provably bug free at a something like 3-4 bugs per 500,0000 lines of code.
    I think the article you're referring to is They Write the Right Stuff [fastcompany.com].

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