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Re: Secrets...



The issue of whether to publish schematics and other technical data is not an
easy one, and there are legitimate arguments to be made by both sides.

The ITAR regulations are very serious issues, since satellites are classified
as munitions and there are limits on exporting information that would contain
details sufficient to permit a foreign national to construct a copy of any
device useful in building a satellite. Export is broadly defined and includes
publishing data on a web site or disclosing it at a meeting where foreign
nationals may be present. Given the present US Government paranoia against all
foreigners, such that even my foreign national wife is no longer welcome to
set foot inside the NASA Goddard campus, I don't see any relief in sight for
at least a few years when perhaps cooler and more rational heads are in
charge.

There are also commercial considerations, no satellite designer would enjoy
seeing his work copied and used for commercial purposes with compensation or
acknowledgement to him or to Amsat.

You will notice that NASA and the universities and companies that build space
hardware seldom, if ever, publish detailed schematics of their designs. While
I was listening to the space station  air-to-ground communications one day
earlier this year, one of  the crew members was trying to troubleshoot some
equipment and said that it would be easier if the ground could send up the
schematic, he was told that the drawings were "proprietary". Even the
astronauts on the space station have trouble getting schematics! It certainly
is frustrating to space geeks like me, who would dearly enjoy poring over
circuit diagrams from Galileo or Cassini. Even after working in the Hubble
Space Telescope control center for the past dozen years, I can count fewer
than a half dozen modules for which I have seen detailed partial schematics.
The rest of it is just black boxes, some signal goes in and some other kind of
signal comes out. I guess I'm just a damned "appliance operator". 

When I look at the opposite side of the coin I see compelling reasons why we
should publish as much data as possible. A budding spacecraft designer can
learn a lot from looking at schematics, much more than only seeing block
diagrams. If we are wondering how to grow the next generation of satellite
designers and builders, we must find a way to pass on the detailed knowledge
to people who may not yet have established credentials as bona-fide satellite
designers.

It doesn't matter if some people will simply keep it on their desks as an
"interesting souvenir". I have a lot of interesting souvenirs among my vast
collection of books, papers, components and equipment. I keep my souvenirs
around because sometimes they become valuable for some unforeseen purpose even
many years after I acquired them. I read a half dozen or more electronics
magazines every month not because I want to copy the projects that they
publish but because I want to see how the projects are designed.
 
Amsat operates on a system where you can see the schematics if you have
credentials as a legitimate satellite builder, but how can you join that elite
club without first looking to see what others have done and the approaches
they have taken to solve certain problems? I don't want to copy designs like
some inept cook following a recipe that he does not understand, but to learn
from those designs and see if I can improve on them. At least on this side of
the Atlantic, the Amsat "green book" is treated as a classified document. I
was slapped on the wrist for writing a few notes on a scrap of paper that I
carry in my shirt pocket while looking at it. You can look at the book while
you are in the lab, but you are not allowed to write down anything while doing
so. 

Which leads to my next point, that independent design review by people outside
of the immediate group might catch mistakes and bad judgment that the insiders
have blinded themselves to. Dare I ask how the AO-40 mission might have turned
out differently if outsiders had looked at, analyzed, understood and commented
on the plumbing system and the fuel valves? One lesson we can learn from that
mission is to recruit people from outside the immediate design group, give
them full access to all  data, and invite them to independently review mission
critical systems.

Like the aging Internet Hippies, I still feel that "information wants to be
free." The more tightly that information is guarded and protected from
disclosure, the more useless it becomes.

Dan Schultz N8FGV



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