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New GLXP Interview: Team FREDNET!

Published by Elliot Kulakow on Tue Jul 28, 2009 6:36 am
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I had the opportunity to sit down with Fred, Sean, and Walt from Team FREDNET at NewSpace2009 and talked to them about a variety of topics including: Open-Source, the difficulties of staging a lunar mission, their progress, and commercial markets.

Spacefellowship: What challenges have you encountered running an Open-Source hardware development project, as opposed to software which is easily transferable across long distances?

FREDNET: Actually, it’s more similar than you would think. During design phases, electronic design information can be shared just like software. Once prototyping begins, the development work must be centralized (for example, rover development happening mostly at a university in Spain, another site in Switzerland, and several more in the U.S.).

Team FREDNET

Team FREDNET

Spacefellowship: What are the pros and cons of running a large, distributed Open-Source project versus a smaller, centralized core development team like Armadillo?

FREDNET: Communication is slower and more complicated, have to be cognizant of cultural differences between team members and countries. A benefit is there are a large number of eyes from many different backgrounds looking at every problem, which leads to more creative solutions.

Spacefellowship: Where are you now versus where you were when you started and where you want to be?

FREDNET: A lot more organized than 6 months ago, many key positions have been filled. Prototype hardware is being built, but there are still many test missions that need to be completed before launching.

Spacefellowship: Would you say then that you are reaching the end of your design phase?

FREDNET: Well, design flows from requirements – we’d say we’re in the second phase of requirements definition. Once requirements are fully defined, then the design phase will progress much more quickly.

Spacefellowship: What would you say the biggest requirements difference is between LEO and the moon, and how does this complicate the mission?

FREDNET: The radiation environment. You need much better hardening since the moon is not protected by the Earth’s magnetic field, especially for longer duration missions.

Spacefellowship: Do you anticipate having trouble with hardened electronics due to the price of traditional space-grade electronics?

FREDNET: Still not well understood how this requirement will be fulfilled, putting together a wiki page on radiation hardening to address this. We think there is a lot of untapped expertise and all challenges can be overcome – especially given the intellectual resources of the whole planet to draw upon.

Spacefellowship: How do you plan on accomplishing your orbit transfer?

FREDNET: Mission plans remain confidential until completed or no longer relevant to our competitors (this is a competition after all). One thing we are concerned about is Technology Readiness Levels; i.e. the market has some things that must be completed before we can utilize those as services.

Spacefellowship: Are there any exciting developments we should be looking for in the next year?

FREDNET: Without being too specific, in the next year we are looking at satisfying some of the X-Prize requirements for imaging, which require us to demonstrate hardware, and we will be accomplishing these in interesting ways.

Spacefellowship: How about “Hovercraft” flights?

FREDNET: Can’t say anything about that, but there are some small partial flights you can see on our YouTube channel. We are currently pursuing several design possibilities for our final “hovercraft”, with a decision to be made later in the design phase.

Spacefellowship: Are you pursuing commercial applications of your technology after the GLXP is won or lost?

FREDNET: We see the Lunar X-Prize as a proof-of-concept. Win or lose we plan on creating a commercial spin-off based on Open-Source principals. Models for current commercial spin-offs of Open-Souce software (eg, Red Hat, Sourceforge) can be improved upon.

Spacefellowship: Can you give me an example of a commercial market you intend on exploring?

FREDNET: Cubesats. We can use technology derived from the lunar insertion stage to piggy-back on suborbital launches, providing access to orbit for small payloads.

Spacefellowship: How about a commercial lunar market?

FREDNET: We have people looking at what markets are available, but can’t talk about specifics yet. We will, however, be delivering fresh flowers. (Someone else said that, not me …) Some other opportunities were just revealed during the NewSpace conference.

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