Gravity Development Board: an Open Source Hardware Space Rated Computer

gravity development boardBecause of the harsh environments in space…one of the most difficult (and expensive) parts of a satellite is the electronics. This is why entrepreneur and engineer Blaze Sanders is helping to reduce the cost of space tolerant electronics through his crowdfunded Gravity Development Board.

What led to the development of the GDB?

The GDB started out as a high power driver for the Lunar Wombot, that I lead the developed of at NASA’s MSFC. We needed a small embedded system that could drive Firgelli L16 linear actuators and act as the control and communication system for the entire Lunar Wormbot. http://youtu.be/AdoR8D619Kc After using it for that project I show the simple versatility of the system, and decided to use my software background to make the systemn easier to use and my space background to make it space tolerant. The GDB has all the basic building blocks for most electronic projects, in a small, easy to use, low cost package.

Essential traits of a space rated computer

A space rated computer must be an to handle the vibration profile of different launch vehicles (rockets) that effects physical connections and clock frequency stability, distribute heat very well to radiators to stop the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) from overheating and warping, solder paste that doesn’t could cause small tin whisker (pieces of metal) that float around in zero-G shorting stuff out, and have shielding or robust reset schemes and redundancies to fix Single Event Upsets (SEU) caused by radiation (least important)

The E-series GDB is space “tolerant” through the use of a thermally conductive vibration proofing epoxy that glue the IC’s down to the PCB, a Thermoset based PCB that has a low coefficent of thermal expansion which stops the board from warping, thermal spreaders to increase thermal flux to >300 W/cm2, soldermask color, NASA out gas approved via paste fill to stop thermal cracking, solder chemistry, low G-Sensitivity crystals to keep timing stable during launch, and thermally conductive vibration proofing epoxy.

The M Series is for Mars / Planetary based applications where our TDS-1 shielding methodology, K-Strap thermal spreaders, and our patent pending DOUBLE triple modular redundancy architecture will protect the electronics. NASA has a great reference for designing electronics hardened against space radiation.

We just signed a deal get thermal-vacuum & vibration testing for the Gravity Development Board done in the UK, worth $32,000+ on Sept 25, 2013. Key test parameters:

  • Pressure 1×10-5 ATM
  • Temperature -40 to 60 Degrees Celsius
  • Vibration profile of the Falcon 9, Ariane V, & Orbital Sciences Taurus rockets

How is the GDB different from existing space rated computers?

Other than being 208x cheaper then Andrew Space’s 150 Series, the GDB is designed for the beginners and experts, via the flexibility to program the board in four languages (The 12 Blocks GUI, SPIN, C, or Assembly), you don’t have to decide between ease of coding and efficiency. You can have both! It also has 33% more high current higher circuits, runs up to 6.4x faster (640 MHz vs 100 MHz, 99.98% lower minimal power draw, 84% smaller, and 10% lower mass.

Why did you pursue crowdfunding?

We pursed crowdfunding because a very small amount of money ($8,800) can get us taken seriously by manufacturing shops (We have preliminary deals with ATC & Wicked Device), which allows us to scale up our production rates. Crowdfunding is also good PR and shows angel investors we have customer leverage. We selected RocketHub because we entered and won a contest where the marketing power of Popular Science is being used to market our campaign Plus it has a cool name “Rocket” for a New Space project.

Open Source Hardware: do you see yourself pursuing a similar strategy to DIY Drones?

Absolutely! Not only does that reduce our R&D cost, but it allows us to promote STEM training in kids. Like Elon says “I want to died on Mars… just no at impact” and the only way humanity is going to do that is by working together and spending less money on the military.

What role will hackers/makers play in the future development of the GDB?

As time and resources permit we’ll be reaching out to local hackerspaces about PCB manufacturing and testing. You can find previous proposal we have drawn here for the $20,000 Space GAMBIT program.

Any plans to add new products to the mix?

Yes, our GDB has three simple accessories coming as soon as capital allows (In order of importance):

  1. Ejection Seat: Quick release breakout board for GDB I/O and connection to RF Tx/RX and Flywheel diodes.
  2. LISA: Rugged sensor shield with Inertial/velocity sensors, IR/visible-light sensors and emitters, RF Tx/RX, pressure/temperature sensor, microphone, memory-expansion.
  3. Arduino shield to GDB Converter: To open the shield market even more for the GDB.

 Where do you think the future of the New Space Industry is headed?

  • I think two GLXP teams will have tried to land on the Moon and one will survive landing by 2015
  • I think people will be in Bigelow Inflatables before 2020
  • Virgin Galactic will have sent 100′s of people to space by 2014
  • Space-X with be successful in their 5 mile Falcon 9R mission this year.
  • Other service industries (scheduling, fashion, etc ) will support the hardcore engineering

Can I use this board for Earth based projects?

Yes, and that is why we separated the GDB into three different series. Each with the same architecture to make going to the next level super easy.

  • E Series – For Earth based applications where size & ease of programming matter.
  • M Series – is for Mars / Planetary based applications where our TDS-1 shielding methodology, K-Strap thermal spreaders, and our patent pending DOUBLE triple modular redundancy architecture will protect the electronics.
  • S Series – For free space based applications where RAD hard components are a must. Internally it uses the Xilinx Virtex-5Q FPGA allowing reconfigurable hardware, which serves as its own back-up, but has the same software and interfaces as the E & M series.

Does the GDB play into any STEM outreach programs you are developing?

Yes and the $18,666 reach goal for our RocketHub campaign is to give out 50 free GDB’s for use in our Great Space for Girls and Mars University Sports programs.

Guest Author Bio: Blaze graduated with a dual Bachelors degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2010, focusing on embedded system design and mechatronics. Blaze held internship and civil servant positions at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center, in astronaut human factors and robotics respectively from 2009 to 2012. Blaze was also the Technical Program Manager of the JURBAN Google Lunar X Prize team from 2011 to 2013, and is currently the Technical Lead of Deep Space Industries Special Project Division,and the CTO of Solar System Express, a New Space company enabling space settlement, via increased human capability on Earth.

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