What kind of innovation happens when you get 8,000 hackers and engineers together for a weekend and give them interesting challenges? The International Space Apps Challenge was designed to figure that out. I had the opportunity to speak with Pablo Carranza Vélez about his project - Using the Raspberry Pi to create a space worth redundant computer. Soon into the challenge, Pablo realized nobody was looking at redundancy issues in cubesat computers. This is important because radiation plays hell with electronics and as a result...space rated computers are expensive and often lag behind their consumer counterparts. What if you could take a $35 Raspberry Pi computer and make it space worthy? And the best part, he made his entire project Open Source and posted his results on Github
International Space Apps Challenge Interview
The core of our idea is to design an architecture that is reliable enough to go into space, where this redundancy started in a transparent way so that everybody can hack it just like they would hack a Raspberry Pi and Arduino. A Raspberry Pi is a $35 computer
We are doing space hardware but with really cheap components, of course if you were going to send that to space there would be a lot of other costs but at least the computer is not expensive and everybody can do it at home. Basically you are making a $35 hackable space qualified computer and I know a lot of people who can actually afford a $35 computer. What appealed to you about that particular challenge?
First, I didn’t have a team when I got there, because I am Argentinian and I went to Chile and I didn’t know anyone so I just talked to some other guys that were team-less as well, and we ended up assembling this team on the go and deciding to go for ArduSat. I knew I wanted to do hardware because that is kind of my area and I was interested in ArduSat because I had been talking to some guys here who have a CubeSat company and I was quite fascinated by what they do. Tell me a little bit about the space apps challenge. How did it go? How many people were there? What was the general impression of the space apps challenge?
I think it was just amazing, I heard it was like the biggest hackathon ever, 8000 people around the world. It was great to know you are working on a project and there were other people working on it in London, for instance or lots of places. It was made in such a way that you could actually get in contact with those guys and work with them and collaborate. For ArduSat there was like…for each challenge had a hack pad where everybody could contribute and collaborate in the hacking and well, we actually talked and saw the things that guys at London were doing at other places, so it was really helpful. Worldwide, there are other people working on the same challenge that you are working on?
Exactly. I think there were 10 projects for the ArduSat. I saw what everybody else was doing and it was definitively cool. They were interfacing their Raspberry Pi with Arduino and testing a lot of sensors and stuff that is key if you want to put a satellite in orbit. But I felt like the redundancy and the reliability part was missing so we chose to tackle that problem. You could see what everyone else was working on for not only ArduSat but all the other challenges and then that enables you find a missing part.
That was like a very cool thing about space apps. There were a lot teams working on very different things and there was also a lot of collaboration between guys working on different challenges. There were two physicists working on a challenge and some other guys who had some doubts about radiation and they started talking so a lot of ideas were like flowing around everywhere. What happened at the end of Space Apps Challenge?
There was a three minute pitch per challenge per project and there were prizes in different categories: hardware, software, data visualization etc. Sadly, we didn't win. Maybe our challenge, our project was too technical for a 3-minute pitch and some of the guys did quite amazing stuff. Making the project Open Source and Posting on Github
We wanted to publish it on the Internet to allow anyone else to use it. I don't know if I'll have time to continue to develop it. Plus I would love to get in touch with the ArduSat team to see if it is useful for them. I am an electronic engineering student, I am missing the final project but I am almost there. I haven’t worked in space projects before but that is exactly what I am looking for now. I am actually trying to find a space startup that might be hiring. Hacking the Space Industry leads to innovation
I am quite sure that is the future of the space industry now. I listened to a TEDTalk by this guy who now has a CubeSat company here and he did a very interesting analogy. He said that what caused the explosion of the computer industry was the fact the people started using the technology and hacking and he said the space industry is now at that precise moment when that can actually happen. So you know that can be what makes the space industry advance in unexpected ways and unimagined ways. [Image from Flickr by @america