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?

Delft trip part 1 POCKETQUBES

So last thursday I flew out to the Netherlands to go to and speak at the Pocketqube satellite workshop kindly hosted at TU Delft by Delfi Space. It was a pleasure and massive thanks to the team who put such an excellent event together.

With delegates and teams attending from all over the world (Wales, Scotland, England, Hungary, Israel, Switzerland, Netherlands) and people VOIP'ing in from Australia and Argentina it was truly a global affair and also crossed sectors well in terms of amateur teams through academic teams and full commercial companies speaking and an equally diverse audience in attendance.

The picture above is of me and Rakesh from Orion Space who is a passionate driving force trying to increase the interaction and interest in space engineering by students in Nepal, Rakesh is using his own resources to try and engage and build a program out there in the university of Kathmandu using CANSAT programs, model rocketry and Pocketqube development as platforms. I was honoured to give Rakesh (after using them in my talk) the chassis models I had with me for him to take back for his students to have a look at and play with.

 Frank from the European Space Agency started the workshop talks after an excellent introduction by Prof Eberhard Gill from Delfi Space and then followed a day with many Pocketqube teams speaking about their work and development on a range of subjects, to get a flavour of the day the workshop program is here

It was great to see everyones hardware/development models above is a photo of the ESA funded Alba Orbital Unicorn 2 satellite together with Hungarian team's Smog-1 hardware. 

There are so many photo's I could share of peoples presentations but for the sake of brevity I've just picked out the above as it is an inspiring photo.. this is a photo of a Skyfox labs PQ60 pocketqube board having been integrated into the mighty Upsat by the Librespace foundation which is currently sat inside an Atlas V5 rocket ready to be deployed at any time. It's exciting as it represents the first launch for hardware that is built to the PQ60 community developed standard. 

Also.. Skyfox labs gave out the best free swag at the workshop.. a nice usb drive and cool remove before flight tag.. Perfect!

The afternoon sessions were enjoyable and the workshop ended with a group discussion about standards, including mechanical standards and PQ60 and the proposed new standard from Delfispace. Its an interesting subject and it was good to see everyone in agreement that the Mechanical standard needs to be defined and published asap. The electrical standard... well.. there's probably a lot more discussion to be had!

 The day ended with an amazing trip to see the Delfispace groundstation setup on the roof of the 21 story TUDelft building. It was fabulous and Kris who showed us around really went out of his way outside of work hours to give us a good tour. Bedankt! He also showed us the technology hardware archive under the TUDelft building which is not normally open to public access.. but that requires a seperate post!
Sunset in the groundstation listening room.

 A commercial yagi setup on the roof!

Finally. Just want to thank all the Delfispace team for putting on an amazing event.