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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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  • ..we will see space-shuttles being hacked in the same way wii gets hacked: People tears it apart and use it for pretty much any neat project. "Hmm, i wonder if these thrusters could heat up my apartment, instead of the old fasion fireplace i have"
    • "Hmm, i wonder if these thrusters could heat up my apartment, instead of the old fasion fireplace i have"
      But can they be hacked to run Slackware?
      • by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @07:41PM (#21759144) Journal
        Yes they can, and just like any PC based thruster, it will be more efficient, more stable, and you won't have to recycle the power every few days of bug free operation. As a matter of fact, net craft has confirmed that installing slackware and removing the windowing OS that came with it will allow for longer trips in space and even maned trips to Pluto.com and back. Long live the really hot air coming from slackware powered thrusters.
    • by NickCatal (865805) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:09PM (#21756428)
      But will the wrist strap on the rocket be strong enough? I don't want my Ares Rocket messing up my flat screen TV
  • A proven (or that will be proven) rocket design, with open specs, that's amazing.

    Open source rules!
  • Surely the specifications will be open sourced, but does it meant the code of the software in it will be opened too? If so I'd love to see some of that hit the front page of The Daily WTF.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by frith01 (1118539)
      This is the Bush Administration we are talking about. If they wont ship an AMD cpu to Iran, would they really provide inter/intra-orbital software code to be open source ? (Think ICBM)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Penguinisto (415985)

        This is the Bush Administration we are talking about. If they wont ship an AMD cpu to Iran, would they really provide inter/intra-orbital software code to be open source ? (Think ICBM)

        ["bubble-headed total agreement mode" on]
        ...because, you know, everyone and their dog can get hold of the requisite titanium, rocket fuel, high-precision valves, thermal shielding, Internal Nav Units, and electronics required... You know, all the stuff that makes a delicate and complex-all-to-hell vehicle like, you know, a rocket... fly just fine without exploding in mid-air, or, like, simply catching fire on the launch pad. All we need are, like, you know, these here plans and some duct tape, you know?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by frith01 (1118539)
          I was actually just stating facts. You do realize of course that the Scuds that were launched in the first Gulf war were intended to hit cities / industrial targets, and one of the main reasons they did not was due to poor guidance software ? (Patriots did knock a couple off-track of course.) The Open Specifications are of course available due to the reasons you mentioned. The export restriction variations are a specific executive decision type thing that can be directly tied to an administration. Tha
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            New software will not help - there isn't some amazing algorithm out there that takes data from crappy sensors and makes it 100% accurate. Now if they were able to duplicate some of the hardware that went with the software then it could be of some use - but the point is that the hardware is the hard part.
        • by jamstar7 (694492)

          ["bubble-headed total agreement mode" on]
          ...because, you know, everyone and their dog can get hold of the requisite titanium, rocket fuel, high-precision valves, thermal shielding, Internal Nav Units, and electronics required... You know, all the stuff that makes a delicate and complex-all-to-hell vehicle like, you know, a rocket... fly just fine without exploding in mid-air, or, like, simply catching fire on the launch pad. All we need are, like, you know, these here plans and some duct tape, you know?
          [B

      • That's an interesting question. IANAL, but I imagine at least _some_ of the specifications would fall under export control [doc.gov] regulations. It'll be interesting to see if it's just the specs for key components that fall into categories that are already controlled, or if the US government tries to prevent any information from being exported. Given the current trend in the Executive branch towards secrecy, I imagine it'll be closer to the latter than the former.
    • Do you really think there will be much code that is worthy of The Daily WTF? NASA and its contractors go to great lengths to try to produce properly engineered code [fastcompany.com]. Sure, it's still not perfect [nasa.gov], but I seriously doubt we'll see the kind of "what were they thinking?!" things that are typically featured on The Daily WTF.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:03PM (#21756356)
    CAPCOM: Good morning Persues, how are you today?
    PERSUES: 5 by 5 Houston, what's the plan for today? We're only halfway to the moon.
    CAPCOM: Persues, we need you to run a few 'patch' commands, we're uploading the diffs now...
  • This sounds more like Open Standards, not Open Source.
    • by sumdumass (711423)
      How much do you want to bet that you have to sign it out, protect it from getting loose and keep it a secrete.

      I don't think this would be a any country or citizen of any country can get it thing. Not even from P2P programs.
  • Open source? (Score:5, Informative)

    by link5280 (1141253) * on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:05PM (#21756396)
    Not the same as open source for software. They will make the data available only to future bidders and only when it benefits the government. You're not going to download rocket technology off of NASA's website.
    • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @06:05PM (#21757986)
      The summary also says that Boeing will be the prime contractor for the Ares 1. This is not true. The article is about Boeing being the prime contractor for the avionics. Incidentally, Boeing is also the prime contractor for the second stage structure. However, the first stage is being built by Alliant Techsystems (who also makes the nearly identical shuttle SRB's...that part of the contract was a shoe-in), the 2nd stage engine is being built by Pratt and Whitney, and the Orion spacecraft that the Ares is being designed to launch is contracted to Lockheed Martin.
    • Well, that's good - ICBM's aren't all that different than these kinds of rockets. But the citizenry won't be baying for duplicate non-debugged work.
  • ... the system's specifications will be 'open-source and non-proprietary ...
    Ok, where can I send my patches?
  • In theory.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by olddotter (638430) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:11PM (#21756462) Homepage
    In theory anything developed with public funds is supposed to go into the public domain. But that seems to have died even faster than the Bill of Rights.
    • In theory anything developed with public funds is supposed to go into the public domain.


      In what theory, exactly?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      The problem with that logic comes with things that are related to military tech. It has never been in the best interest of a nations public to aid an enemies military development. Rocket technology that can achieve lunar orbit, is also capable of sending (nuclear or conventional) ballistic warheads anywhere on the globe. Publishing those designs in the open, so that rouge nations could literally copy the design, would likely get us all killed. In these cases, and others, it is in the best interest of th
      • Re:In theory.... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:51PM (#21757092)
        Don't be silly. As has been pointed out in the past, if you want to design a rocket for military strikes using a Lunar rocket design is an ABSURD way to proceed. The payload requirements are absurd overkill, as is the support infrastructure.

        Now, if you want to worry that the technology itself might be adapted to weapons, I point out certain political realities.

        1. Anyone stupid enough to launch a rocket at the US or other modern nation is toast. Missles can be tracked back to the origin, and the origin will shortly thereafter be reduced to some rather fundamental particles.

        2. Anyone wanting to deliver a doomsday suicide nuclear payload or other payload would do MUCH better at MUCH cheaper prices to smuggle it into a port city or across the border. If they're capable of engineering such an attack they can figure that out - and we have no missle to trace back to the origin. Not to mention we can't shoot it down...

        The only concern that I might buy would be China or some other large country we're worried about having to fight on a large scale getting access to modern tech they don't currently have. However, most of what they need to figure it out themselves they already have thanks to loads upon loads of outsourcing and buildup of their own economy and academic brainpower. They're trying their own moon shots already, remember? And one of the founding members of their program we chased out of OUR country.

        If you want to limit rocket building potential, you'll have to limit everyone else's access to smart people. Otherwise you'll eventually face the problem anyway, after imposing a lot of pain on your own smart people to no particular purpose.
        • 1. Anyone stupid enough to launch a rocket at the US or other modern nation is toast. Missles can be tracked back to the origin, and the origin will shortly thereafter be reduced to some rather fundamental particles.

          While I agree with this notion, do recall that we almost faced this situation back in 1962. Cuba, rather Fidel, wanted to launch. Fortunately, others did not. This illustrates that there are some really stupid people out there who would love to acquire and use long rage missile designs. An

          • by terrymr (316118)
            The other thing to consider, though, is that the "device" does not need to be nuclear. It in fact does not even need to be explosive with access to an Ares scale rocket. If you can get a large enough mass up in a high orbit, and send it down with decent accuracy, the place where it impacts is going to suffer some major damage. If one targets cities with this, it could be an effective kinetic energy weapon.

            Maybe it would work if it was a solid chunk of iron ... but dropping a spacecraft on somebody from a g
            • by sumdumass (711423)
              The Ares V is supposed to be able to lift a 284,000 pound payload into low earth orbit. Considering this and that steel is only about 49 pounds per cubic foot, we could see a projectile cylinder of around 2.6 meters in diameter and 3 meters in length. That a little over 8.5 wide by 9.8 feet thick of solid metal. That's about the size of a room in some small apartments. Shave half a meter or so from it and place a heat shield to stop it from burning up directly and we will have a serious problem when that hi
              • >I'm surprised that we don't have something like that already in space acting like junk floating around. It would be relatively cheap compared to a Nuke. Send a signal and down it comes without a hint of where from.

                That was Project Thor [wikipedia.org].
      • by WK2 (1072560)
        That is what the GPL is for. Release your military projects under a GPL distribution license, and if other nations use them in secret to annihilate you, you can sue them, and force them to release the designs to their derivative projects.
      • Better block Wikipedia from those rogue nations, or they might get ahold of Newton's laws!
      • We have got to where we are today by having knowlege disseminated by journals and by having published standards. Poorly educated business types that think a financial gain should come from ANY advantage miss this. Open source is just a subset of the sharing that has enabled us to develop and improve technology.
  • by Chairboy (88841) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:11PM (#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?
    • by Zarhan (415465)
      If you have nanotech at that point, why would you need big spaceships at all? Alastair Reynolds has the concept of "travel cauls" in Pushing Ice, where nano (well, he calls it "femtotech" since it's beyond nanotech) thingies basically just grab your body, disassemble it, and then you just travel as a particle stream where ever you like, to be reassembled.
    • It'll probably happen, but you'd better have one hell of a super-cooled superconducting pipe to supply the energy. That is to say, iff someday this is pulled of, it won't be magic. I'd wager you wouldn't want to be within a kilometer of a fab like this, you know, lest you become a source of complex organic molecules for the circuitry ( or seat cushions ).
    • by TubeSteak (669689)
      I think you completely misunderstood the summary and TFA.
      "the specifications will be open-source and non-proprietary"

      Not the technology, not the software, not the blueprints, just the specifications.

      It's a pretty shitty deal for Boeing. After they spend billions subcontracting & integrating all these diverse systems, NASA is going to farm things out to the lowest bidder & bypass Boeing.
      • by fotbr (855184)
        Very true. Boeing is going to get shafted on this, while companies that didn't spend the money to do the R&D will be able to price themselves low enough to get the production contracts while still making very nice product. Hopefully the bid writers at Boeing saw it coming and obtained enough funding that Boeing doesn't end up losing money on the R&D.
    • by Cally (10873)
      "open source" is meaningless in the sense of Free software and the GPL. Sure, NASA / Boeing won't sue you if you scrape up $20,000,000 with a few garage sales and use their blueprints to build yourself a launcher. Oh yeah, you'll need some infrastructure as well - nothing special, just a few control rooms, the DSN, hmmm I guess a TDRS system would be useful too...

      In short, Burt Rutan ain't gonna be building one of these in a garage at White Sands.

    • by master_p (608214)
      And what you describe may be perhaps the only way to colonize the universe...
      • by Cally (10873)
        Well, that settles it then. If it's the only way to fulfill some SF fantasies, it must be going to work. How's about this for a unified theory of physics? There's this gauge field, right, that permeates every part of space, let's call it the Force...
    • by Cally (10873)

      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?

      If monkeys flew out of my butt, they could design and build a rocket for half the budget it takes NASA!

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:12PM (#21756472)
    For mass-produced products, which is what we'd like rockets to become, the cost of the design the parts is relatively minor. So giving away the design does give away that much. Instead, it's the design of the manufacturing systems that determines how cheap and reliably we can make the thing. Cars are cheap because they have almost no labor (most cars take less than 40 labor-hours to build). And what make a Pentium so valuable is not the design layout of the transistors, but the $1 billion fab that can reliably etch all those transistors on a wafer of silicon.

    More than a new rocket design, we need a new rocket manufacturing technology that cranks out high quality rockets for very little per each additional rocket.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ardent99 (1087547)
      If you read TFA, they are not opening up the designs for any parts, or making the software public. They are just making the *specifications* (i.e. the technical requirements) public. This is to encourage more competition in the bidding process. I don't think the project manager is right to call this "open source". They are probably just trying to get some public play out of using that phrase.

      But be that as it may, it is still interesting that they even published the specifications, given the forces at wor
    • When will the manufacturing be open source?

      Maybe when it makes financial sense to do so? Which could be never or when the information is old enough to be worthless.

      The investment it takes to make a competitive manufacturing plant is enormous. Those making that investment (shareholders) want a return on their investment and aren't going to want to give away that work such that competitors can upgrade their plants at half the cost.

      The reason why open source works for software is that it costs practically no
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by markov_chain (202465)
      Instead, it's the design of the manufacturing systems that determines how cheap and reliably we can make the thing.

      Yes, but building the manufacturing systems is *expensive*. It is nearly hand-made machinery with ridiculous tolerances and materials. Having the design won't do you much good without the industrial base to support the building.
  • Now instead of stealing designs from the russians maybe what will happen is that they will open their great firewall for a few seconds and steal our rocket designs and with no safety standards they will reach the moon first on their cheapo open source spacecrafts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AKAImBatman (238306)
      China doesn't have the funds to build an Ares rocket. Keep in mind that these things are based on shuttle technology. They're going to be incredibly expensive for us to fly until we get better at mass production, much less a country that has only minor space-infrastructure.

      - WWII
      - Space Race
      - Cold War

      The U.S. won these because it's an economic powerhouse, not because it was technologically superior. Heck, Germany was kicking our asses on technology in WWII and Russia was ahead of us for most of the space ra
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gstoddart (321705)

        China does not have the economic power (at least, not yet) to compete in a true space-race. If they did, they wouldn't actually need our designs. They'd be capable of making their own.

        Dude, China currently has more US currency reserves than the US does, and almost everything you buy was made by them -- your trade deficit with China is massive. Don't underestimate what China could do if they mobilized.

        The Cold War couldn't have been won by either side, so we bankrupted the USSR.

        That mostly happened on its o

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AKAImBatman (238306)

          Dude, China currently has more US currency reserves than the US does

          It also has a population of 1.3 billion people among which those resources are spread. The US's economic backbone is based on a mere 300 million. That's about a 4:1 difference. The US is still more economically powerful, and will remain that way for now. I'll start worrying when modern living conditions, technology, and high-paying jobs become available to ALL 1.3 billion Chinese, and not just those living in major cities.

          Or to put it blunt

          • by dbIII (701233)

            Or to put it bluntly, the Communist control is not conducive to strong economic development

            Do you really think China is run that way now? I will have to inform you that Mao is dead now and a lot of China privately curses his memory and publicly goes the other way.

            • Do I think that China is run that way now? Absolutely not. I know it is [intelligentblogger.com].

              Wake [washingtonpost.com] the [slashdot.org] hell [slashdot.org] up [slashdot.org]!!!
              • by dbIII (701233)
                Perhaps talk to somebody from China, read a newspaper, listen to a radio station with some news gathering resources or whatever before assuming China is one homogeneous tightly controlled small country that matches a paranoid and jingoistic "let's have new a cold war" fantasy. The weird statement about China not having the economic resources of the country they are lending money to shows a level of insular ignorance that is unwise for a citizen of voting age but unfortuantely common.
        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          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

      • Actually, China (if given the materials and information) can build and run anything NASA does for far far less money. Now, Whether or not its mission completion would be just as successful as NASA's is a whole other story...

        Reason: No political turmoil over their space program that we know of. Second, they don't have a rugged and bureaucratic QA/Safety program that NASA has. That alone saves a fortune in costs.

        Human safety has and will always remain the major political hurdle in the US.
      • by dbIII (701233)

        China doesn't have the funds to build an Ares rocket

        I find this very funny. There is the assumption here that the borrowing country has the finances to build the rocket but the lending country which has more funds does not. Of course the USA already has more of the required infrastructure so the cost would be less but the parent poster is very much out of touch.

  • Which having that open source would be be a good thing for gaymankind.
  • by BZWingZero (1119881) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:18PM (#21756548)
    ITAR restricts technology related to satellites and launch vehicles to a select group of individuals and prevents export to other countries without a lot of hassle. If it is open source, how are they going to prevent other nations from getting the plans to these "weapons"?

    Further reading about ITAR can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Traffic_in_Arms_Regulations [wikipedia.org]
    • A "select group" of approximately 300 million people, namely American citizens and permanent residents. Lots of NASA documents aren't classified, but are marked "ITAR" or "Export Control". It doesn't mean they are impossible to get, but it also means they aren't going up on a web site.
    • It's not really open source. All they are saying is that the designs will be made available to other companies for bidding and estimation purposes. I'm sure there will be plenty of hoops to jump though to see them.
  • by PHAEDRU5 (213667) <(instascreed) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:20PM (#21756594) Homepage
    This is what happens when Karl Rove leaves the building. (http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/07/30/0215204)
  • by savuporo (658486) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:28PM (#21756728)
    Lets start with the fact that the prime contractor for the Ares-I is ATK, who provides solid rocket booster for the thing. What Boeing got was upper stage contract.
    So many aspects of the technology are protected by ITAR, that no matter of how open you may want to make any other parts, its not going to be "open" in any traditional sense.
    Plus, there is high likelyhood that Ares-I will never fly, because its ( again ) grossly over its initial cost estimates, falls short of any reasonable performance goals, and is not liked by anybody but few managers and select few policicans with certain interest areas, who are shoving this completely bass-ackwards technical solution to the launch problem down everyones throats.
    Just look up the DIRECT launcher [directlauncher.com] concept and the discussion surrounding it, and see what i mean. It was conceived and proposed by a group within NASA under the radars to provide a sane, working alternative to the Ares-I fiasco, way sooner and way cheaper, with performance to spare.
    Ares-I is the reason why the NASA lunar return plans are late, underwhelming and underperforming even before they got off the ground, and may well be in danger of cancellation, post elections.
    • It looks like they just photoshopped an apollo capsule onto a space-shuttle stack.
    • by rbanffy (584143)
      The heavy lifter looks remarkably like ARES V. The light lifter seems a lot more expensive than the ARES I - there is a lot more expendable stuff.

      It's interesting. It would be wonderful if NASA could explore both approaches, plus a third, expendable cargo lifter to be piggybacked shuttle-style to a standard shuttle external fuel tank.

      Unfortunately, such budget decisions are not my responsibility ;-)
  • Translation (Score:3, Funny)

    by CrackPipePls (1205568) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:39PM (#21756890)
    Translation:"We need more people to blame"
  • by georgewilliamherbert (211790) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @04:39PM (#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...
  • Anything that could threaten national security will be a blackbox.
  • there are at least two other companies that have been awarded prime contracts for major system components (pratt & whitney / rocketdyne and atk thiokol). lockheed is supplying the raison d'etre in terms of the orion crew vehicle.
  • Don't forget to check those units of measure before you commit..
  • Uhm hate to to pee in the koolaid but this is open standards. We will not be able to download the avionics. ITAR and or other national security agencies will not allow this to be public. Sorry but this just isn't going to happen. How in the world this is tagged suddenoutbreakofcommonsense is beyond me. Common sense seems to say that we need to keep our secrets better eg.. *(Los Alamos)* et al. Yeah. Iran or anyone else would love to have thier hands on our avionics.. Again. Not gonna happen. Ever.

  • that the entire thing will be open to the public. No government would permit countries like North Korea to easily acquire sophisticated ballistic missile technology. The "hard parts" will remain under tight control indefinitely.

    - B

  • I now have a project to build in my backyard this weekend!
  • This is great for China. Like with OSS they'll benefit from it without spending a dime or contributing back.
  • In other news, NASA announced Microsoft has won the contract of the rocket crashing mechanism dispite losing the bid.

    "Crashing mechanism shouldn't be under open bid the first place, we know who's the best and we only accept the best." NASA spokesman said.

    "We can do this in our sleep." Microsoft spokesman said.
  • 3......2......1...???where's the start button?

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