The CNES-backed organization aims to facilitate the development of open source space projects in fablabs, makerspaces, hackerspaces and other spaces for collaborative making.
Strasbourg, special report
Saturday, February 24, at the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg (France), Nicolas Chuecos and Anne-Lise Coudry from Open Space Makers and Fabio Mainolfi from the Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES), the French government space agency, are welcoming curious visitors, space geeks and students. Christopher Welsh, director of education at ISU, immediately expressed interest in the project. It was he who made possible this 4-month Tour de France, which will promote his intention to support open source projects about space made in fablabs and other hackerspaces.
For Strasbourg residents, the International Space University in Illkirch is an intriguing building. Relatively discreet in the region, the private university was initiated in 1987 in Massachusetts by the Space Generation Foundation headed by Peter Diamandis, the space entrepreneur who also presides the X Prize Foundation, and more recently the Singularity University and the space mining company Planetary Resources. In 1994, ISU set up its main campus in Strasbourg, in response to their winning pitch. Since then, ISU offers a Master of Science in Space Studies and has already produced a few success stories. This year, 43 students from 19 countries are following the English-language, interdisciplinary master program inside an upscale building inaugurated in 2002, which also boasts one of the best libraries dedicated to space studies in Europe.
Developing open hardware for space
The ISU audience is quick to catch on, and Nicolas Chuecos doesn’t waste any time in distributing the technological roadmap. Open Space Makers’s primary objective is clear: to develop open source hardware for space. The organization’s charter, still being finalized, will list specific goals: open to everyone the world of space infrastructure; connect makers to institutions of the space sector; develop democratic access to knowledge and know-how; collaboratively and responsibly create open source hardware for space. Arduino board adepts are more than welcome.
Chuecos dives right into the complexity of the space sector: “In order to succeed, the open hardware model applied to space must from the very start integrate all the complexities of the development process, which means taking into account both the resources involved in production and the various processes themselves. And if we want projects to be truly open source, we need to document them, publish diagrams, manuals, etc., in written form—first to allow implementation of these production processes, but also to facilitate their open source distribution.” Anne-Lise Coudry points out that open source provides a protective framework for the projects, while the organization will contribute its legal expertise in order to “develop and implement an online platform to both manage collaborative projects and publish documentation on the open source hardware produced”.
Next, Fabio Mainolfi of CNES explained that CNES’s “Federation” initiative is what led them to create the independent association Open Space Makers. CNES sees itself as a benevolent sponsor to help launch the association, an approach that echoes the more general “Open Space” policy initiated in 2016 in the French space sector.
New Space or Open Space?
International communications in the space sector repeat it often enough: we have entered the “New Space” age, a term used to qualify the age of privatized space exploration. And the recent flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket showed the entire world that this new age has indeed begun. Ever since the United States decommissioned its spaceship in 2011, it has effectively opened up the space sector to private entreprises, and astropreneurial initiatives have blossomed. In 2015, the Obama administration even decided to infringe on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty when it authorized the mining of space resources.
In response, the European Space Agency (ESA) adopted a slightly different strategy and in 2016 declared that we have entered the age of “Space 4.0”, a new era for the space sector, which sees “an increased number of diverse space actors around the world, including the emergence of private companies, participation with academia, industry and citizens, digitalization and global interaction”. ESA proclaims that “Space 4.0 is analogous to, and is intertwined with, Industry 4.0, which is considered as the unfolding fourth industrial revolution of manufacturing and services” and cites clear orientations: “To meet the challenges and to proactively develop the different aspects of Space 4.0, the European space sector can become globally competitive only by fully integrating into European society and economy. This requires a sustainable space sector closely connected with the fabric of society and economy.”
France refers more to Open Space. In July 2016, the report “Open Space: openness as a response to the challenges of the space sector” presented to the Prime Minister by Geneviève Fioraso, deputy of Isère and former Education and Research minister, identifies space research as an unknown actor of the digital revolution and recommends “opening the space sector to digital usage and applications, along with their associated culture of risk-taking” as well as “better sharing space culture”.
“Bottom up” logic
It was in this context that, a little over a year ago, Fabio Mainolfi quit his Paris office and the world of launchers after almost 15 years in the sector, to integrate the Directorate of Innovation, Applications and Science at CNES, as head of disruptive projects. In his first week on the job, he was given a mission from the very top of the French space agency: “Open space infrastructure to citizens and get them involved in building a future world by empowering them to design and produce open hardware. Create and support an ecosystem capable of engendering new concepts for space that can be developed collaboratively using collective intelligence.”
Realizing that it was above all a vision, Mainolfi quickly gave himself the means to carry out his new mission. To understand the environment of collaborative initiatives, he partnerned with OuiShare and went out to meet individuals from the French maker ecosystem. He met rocket builders at the Electrolab hackerspace, who were immediately enthusiastic about the idea of a hacker/maker initiative for space.
During his presentation at ISU, the French-Italian researcher said he was intrigued by the strong interaction between online activities and local groundwork in physical spaces for meeting and sharing. “Independently of their motivations (economic, ecological, social), the open communities promote horizontal governance, learning in pairs, shared knowledge, open design and distributed manufacturing,” he remarked, to explain why “during this evaluation period, CNES decided to adopt these values, characteristics and operating modes as models” for the initiative launched under the name “Federation”.
But a question soon arose: “How can an institutional actor propel so-called ‘bottom-up’ open dynamics that incorporate all the values and operating modes of ‘open communities’? How can it not be quickly dismissed as a top-down initiative that is likely to be rejected?”
Mainolfi noticed that “Established actors tend more toward approaches such as open innovation (hackathons, challenges, intrapreneurship), or approaches that are top-down, semi-closed or discreet.” On the other hand, “Community initiatives are open and structured around a common project or a common good that can be produced by the group. These are bottom-up approaches inspired by hacker culture, maker culture and Do-It-Yourself.” He knew that it was the second model that would enable them to consolidate the initiative. So he decided to launch an association led by civil society, without any direct control by CNES on its operations.
Teaser for the launch of Federation – Open Space Makers at Le Bourget in June 2017:
“Federation – Open Space Makers” is officially launched by CNES in June 2017 at Le Bourget. The Aeronautical Astronautical Association of France (3AF), Planète Sciences, Electrolab and OuiShare all lend their support. By October 2017, the new association Open Space Makers is created with Damien Hartmann (also invested in Ad Astra Electrolab) as president and Justyna Swat as vice-president, even if the operations of Open Space Makers would like to be more collective. CNES is its partner and sponsor, with no voting rights in decisions made by the association, but assumes an informal role in contributing to the community through engineers, and later proposing projects and training in the form of MOOC that have yet to be conceived.
This year, CNES will support the various stages of Open Space Makers: creating the framework and defining the regulations in terms of intellectual property, participation rules, interactions with the existing ecosystem; organizing a Tour de France to promote the initiative; designing an online platform for training, sharing and launching projects within a network of existing spaces. Once the project is deployed, CNES will be a partner and accompany the projects that interest it. “The accompanied projects will be supported by resources and expertise,” says Mainolfi. “For example, a MOOC could explain how to carry out a space project from mission statement to realization. The Federation could even help to set up physical spaces for Open Space Makers in various fablabs and hackerspaces around France.” We will certainly find them on the sidelines of the Toulouse Space Show in June and at FAB14, the international fablab conference in mid-July.