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Tux on the Moon: FOSS hardware and software in space

Time:14:30 - 15:15
Day:Thursday 21 January 2010
Location:Main Auditorium (MFC)
Project: Lunar Numbat

The Ansari X-Prize generated a flurry of activity around technology development related to reaching Earth orbit at low cost, culminating in the first ever privately-funded manned space mission with the successful flight of SpaceShipOne in June 2004. Since then the Google Lunar X-Prize has raised the bar and generated a huge amount of interest and activity relating to technology designed to reach Earth's moon without government funding or assistance. Many teams around the world are working right now on building the technology required to put a rover on the moon and claim the prize for themselves.

The idea of a group of enthusiasts getting together to plan, build, and execute their own moon mission seems like something out of a fairy tale, but it's happening right now with the White Label Space team who have taken a very pro-FOSS approach to space technology. A joint Australia / New Zealand group called Lunar Numbat is working as part of the WLS team to design, develop, and deliver a number of mission-critical subsystems, including:

  • Throttle control electronics and software for a brand new continuously-variable rocket motor to be used in future AUSROC launches and possibly the WLS lunar lander.
  • A radar altimeter built on software-defined radio technology.
  • Video compression and transmission system to maximise the effectiveness of the limited uplink bandwidth from the lunar lander.
  • Prototype avionics system with associated orbital mechanics calculations and flightpath simulations.

All technology developed by the Lunar Numbat team is released under Open Source licences.

This talk will provide an overview of the current development status of the various subsystems, and will touch on issues relating to developing systems in an environment of strict regulation, stringent testing, where software "failure modes" include your hardware being scattered across the sky in flaming pieces and where pre-flight checks mean literally that! It will also show how to get involved in this exciting field: there's a lot of work to do and not much time to do it in, so the more people willing to help out the better. Activities cover a broad range of disciplines and technologies, so there's bound to be a job for you.

Jonathan Oxer

Jonathan Oxer is a member of the Lunar Numbat build team and is currently working on the throttle control system for the WLS lunar lander. He has written 4 books, and along with Hugh Blemings is currently working on a new book called Practical Arduino which will hit the shelves in late 2009. By day he works as Technical Director of web application development company Internet Vision Technologies, and by night he's working to connect every part of his house, car, and garden to the Internet using a combination of Arduino and gaffer tape.