The Open Space Agency

Courtesy of the Open Space Agency

A new organization calling itself the Open Space Agency (OSA) wants to develop a network of pro-level DIY makers who have engineering and building skills to contribute to solutions to some of our biggest challenges.

"We've been interested in the collision of DIY engineering and the emerging space entrepreneur movement, which some people have started to call 'astropreneurs,'" says OSA spokesperson James Parr.

To that end, the OSA's first project is to develop an ultrascope: a 3.5-inch mirror automated robotic observatory that is able to conduct celestial photography and photometry.

"For the ultrascope project we asked ourselves if it was possible to develop a kit-set telescope that would ‘reduce the cost of pro-level astronomy by an order of magnitude’," said Parr. "For amateur astronomers to make the leap to conducting genuinely useful citizen science, the price of entry is a telescope in the $50k-$100k+ price range - not to mention all of the additional networking and controller technologies required.

"This dream would have been almost impossible just 24 months ago. The levels of precision required for a maker-made scientific quality scope would have resulted in compounding errors conspiring to make observations frustrating for aspiring citizen scientists. However the emergence of low-cost 3D printers and laser-cutting, paired with micro-controller platforms such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi and Nokia Lumia - with it’s 41 Megapixel CCD - mean that a project such as this is now eminently possible."

The OSA is currently refining the design of the ultrascope and is looking for beta testers. You can sign up at http://www.openspaceagency.com/. When the design has been perfected, it will be released under an open license.

Longer term, the OSA has bigger plans.

"We (of course) want to launch a cube satellite," Parr said. "But initially we wanted to find a space-themed project that would appeal to established makers and amateur communities around the world and at the same time would prove the idea that it was possible to develop open hardware that was able to contribute and scale citizen science with a level of data fidelity that would be useful to researchers."

"We've since discovered that we're not alone here," Parr added, "and that there are a number of other people thinking the same way in adjacent domains. There are already some great examples of other projects happening, notably the Open Beehives project and Safecast - both of which are using open hardware to help solve persistent challenges (colony collapse and radiation leaks, respectively) where there has been a market failure."

To learn more about the OSA and keep track of the progress of the project, check out the blog at: https://openspaceagency.squarespace.com/news/.

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Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke.