HOUSTON — The recently founded DIYRockets is spearheading an open source competition for the collaborative creation of 3D-printed rocket engines capable of launching nanosatellites into orbit.
The prizes are modest — just $10,000 in all — but the process is challenging and the goals ambitious. Buoyed by surging interest in the private sector’s potential to open access to space by lowering the costs of hardware development and operations, the sponsors believe their 3D Rocket Engine Design Challenge will lead to prototyping, testing and eventually the global production of space hardware through innovative processes already fueling software development and automobile fabrication.
The application of open sourcing to the design of coveted space technologies could pose as much of a challenge as the actual hardware development for the fast-paced design challenge, which opened March 9 at the 2013 South by Southwest Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas.
“If we could get some really high-quality designs that work — that is one goal,” said Darlene Damm, co-founder and president of Mountain View, Calif.,-based DIYRockets. “We are trying to change how the space industry works. A lot of people don’t believe it is actually possible. But we would like to demonstrate in a small way that you can collaborate through open source technology.”
The competition is co-sponsored by Sunglass, which is offering up its collaborative, cloud-based design environment for the competition.
In their collaboration, DIYRockets and Sunglass anticipate a series of contests that draw on collective global creativity to draw down the costs of various yet-to-be-defined private sector space ventures.
“We would like to see disparate teams come together and build great designs,” said Kaustuv De Biswas, co-founder and CEO of two-year-old Sunglass.
“The gallery of ideas generated in the system and really moving toward the idea of open source, where there is knowledge generation open to the rest of the world — that would be the definition of success from the Sunglass side.”
The first initiative is a competition to design a propulsion source for the launching of 0.5-10 kg (1-22 lb.) satellites to Earth orbit, using a reusable or expendable rocket with a propellant of choice as long as it is “safe,” according to contest rules.
The contest co-sponsors also have allied with Shapeways as a 3D printing resource for the additive manufacturing process the contest envisions. The rules specify stainless steel as the raw material for the creations.
Teams face the challenge of deciphering and meeting export control restrictions, while exercising the flexibility of synchronizing their collaborations in the Sunglass cloud with SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, Rhino or Catia, among other virtual design tools.
Segway inventor Dean Kamen headlines the competition judging team, which will expand to include aerospace industry experts associated with, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the TED nonprofit, according to DIYRockets and Sunglass.
The judging team will award $5,000 to the team with the top overall design and $2,500 prizes to the best student entry from an educational institution as well as the team exhibiting the most creative use of the collaboration platforms. Registration closes on April 6. Winners will be announced July 1.