Coral — November 2018 Update
Having reached the four-month mark, Space Decentral’s Coral has taught us a lot about crowdsourcing space missions
The early days of Coral had 20–25 people who were happy to spend their Monday nights (or Tuesday mornings, depending on where they are located) discussing how and what to 3D print on the Moon. Pretty early we established a few baselines that would guide us throughout the process: 1) Coral shall use a commercial lander, 2) the payload shall stay stationary on the lunar surface, 3) the initial mission shall be ready for launch within 5 years, 4) the payload shall be between 5–10kg, and 5) the cost shall not go over $10mi. We realized soon enough that our budget and mass constraints would require more in-depth studies, and we will most likely be revisiting those values. However, the first three baseline constraints stand strong and are driving our research and design.
Definition of the Problem
As time passed, the group has stabilized into 14 regular contributors that have been actively participating in weekly meetings and contributing to advancing the mission design.
Although the Coral mission is an ambitious one, with the long-term goal of 3D printing complex structures and habitats on the lunar surface, we decided to start small and defined our first mission as a technology demonstration. Coral Mission 1.0 will manufacture a structural compression element using lunar regolith as feedstock for the 3D printing process, and will then perform one or more tests to measure one or more engineering properties, including compressive strength.
Establishing Initial Working Groups
With a clear problem to solve, we found ourselves in a “chicken and egg” loop concerning which mission design decision comes first: the manufacturing method or the selection of the lander vehicle, so we decided to break the team effort into two working groups to analyse the problem from each perspective. The Lander Selection group would research the different lunar landers available and study them to understand the constraints they impose on the payload design. The Manufacturing group would focus on the different additive manufacturing methods that we could use to 3D print a brick with lunar regolith, and determine the requirements that need to be satisfied.
The Lander Selection group studied the possible lunar landers that are scheduled to provide services in a timeframe that fit the 5 year baseline. Between the options were Astrobotic, SpaceIL, PTScientists, Blue Moon and Xeus. After careful trade studies and considerations, the group selected Astrobotic’s Peregrine as the baseline lander vehicle.
The Manufacturing group conducted an extensive research and trade study of possible methods of 3D printing. This included looking into energy source, feedstock material, actual additive manufacturing processes and so on. After much deliberation and calculations, it has been narrowed down to three 3D printing options: Solar-Powered, Laser or Microwave.
With the lander selected and the manufacturing method narrowed down to three options, we begin a new phase in the Coral mission — concept studies phase.
Our previous working groups were dissolved and the team has reconfigured into six new groups for this upcoming phase:
- Planning — Define and assign value to tasks
- Systems Engineering — Define requirements and constraints + ConOps
- Lander Studies — Study the lander specs, conceptualize hardware configuration
- Concept Studies A (Microwave) — Conceptualize use cases with the microwave manufacturing method
- Concept Studies B (Solar) — Conceptualize use cases with the solar manufacturing method
- Concept Studies C (Laser) — Conceptualize use cases with the laser manufacturing method
Each of the “Studies” groups will develop a high level work breakdown structure (WBS), which the Planning group will unfold into tasks with assigned value, deadlines and deliverables. Meanwhile, the Systems Engineering group will work closely with the study groups to hash out a full list of requirements for the mission. At the end of this mission design phase, we aim to complete one feasible concept for each of the manufacturing methods to better assess the optimal option, a complete list of mission requirements, a complete WBS for mission development, and a comprehensive study of the capabilities the lander provides. With this information we will be able to develop our preliminary design, aiming to complete this Pre-Phase A process in the first trimester of 2019.
One of the meta-objectives of the Coral mission is to develop and perfect the processes and tools we will use for future Space Decentral projects. We learned a lot in these past four months, and are already working on course corrections to keep the project on track. It is one thing to work remotely in a hierarchical team, where the boss has the final say, and each person is assigned tasks that are defined by a supervisor. Working cooperatively in an egalitarian structure is completely different. While Space Cooperative remains the main coordinating force behind Coral, we have been encouraging the rest of the team to take ownership of the project by participating in the planning meetings and in the decision making, by discussing and defining tasks, and choosing what they want to work on. Each team member can decide how much time and effort they want to put into the project, and the collective notion that Coral is a team effort, and the genuine interest in the mission are the main forces pushing us forward.
We recognize that as the project advances, so will the complexity, and it will be impossible to develop a space mission without hierarchy. But the goal is that the team members will decide when hierarchy is necessary, and that people who end up in leadership roles won’t necessarily have more power than those at the lowest levels. Our working groups are an example of this, where the working group has a lead, but their responsibilities are more about coordinating and assessing the work of the entire group.
As a decentralized project, the Coral mission uses Github to define and manage tasks. However, since the mission started without a clear project definition, the initial tasks were too open-ended and were defined in such a way where it was difficult to assess completion. While contributors were actively researching and discussing outside of Github, the issues in the repo became more of an outline of what to study than an actual task list.
As we move on to a new phase, we are reviewing and refining our task management processes. The Planning group is meeting weekly to define a points system for the tasks that have somewhat been worked on, and future discussions will define values for the new tasks, based on the upcoming WBS. These point values will be used next year once we take the Planning Suite being developed on Aragon live, and award contributors tokens for their work.
We have also been discussing the strategy of how our repo will work and its role in the project as the official documentation library. We learned that tasks with unclear instructions, deliverables or deadlines tend to be brushed over, and also that our demographics need a hybrid strategy — not all Github, not all Google Docs.
Teamwide communication is another area that needs constant work. Predictably, not all contributors are on the same page regarding communications tools. We have tried a few strategies to work around that, including an attempt to migrate all team conversations from an email distribution list to a forum. However, our forum is not yet able to offer the agility necessary for real-time discussions, so another alternative was to use the Riot chat. But not everyone is comfortable joining a group chat — so we end up having a few loose email threads — which become very confusing with large groups and constantly mutating discussions. We have yet to find the best strategy for team communication that caters to our demographics (team members are 20 to 70 years old), but we are constantly trying out new ideas, and are hoping to come to consensus (or build) the ideal communication tool in the future. Slowly but surely, the Coral mission is evolving and becoming more organized, and the next missions designed on Space Decentral will benefit from these learned lessons.
The lunar frontier is finally opening up, and we intend to ride out with the first wave of prospectors. Will you join us?
We hold public collaboration meetings every Monday to work on Coral. We invite people from all backgrounds from space architects to enthusiasts to participate. Fill out our team signup form to receive an invite.
We also welcome you all to join our Riot channels for announcements, discussion on Coral, and more!
Space Decentral is a decentralized autonomous space agency that leverages blockchain technology to reinvigorate the push for space exploration with global citizens in control. Space Decentral promotes collaborative design of space missions, sharing research for peer review, crowdsourcing science, and crowdfunding worthy projects that accelerate human progress.