2019-04-21 13:40

Outposts.io, and a Rejection by YC

SpaceX on Mars

I applied for YC's Winter batch of 2016–and got rejected, unsurprisingly–with a plan to develop software for the first Mars settlers.

I'm saying unsurprisingly in the literal sense of the word: the idea needed a grant, not funding, and YC is more interested in for-profit business ideas, and rightfully so.

Anyways, I just ran into the submission file so I decided I share it. Beware, it's pretty goofy.

Outposts.io

Software for Planetary and Solar Body Expeditions

A Bold Plan

We plan to build the world's first software stack for day-to-day use by expedition crews on the surface of Mars and other solar system bodies.

The software will provide a common user interface and API on top of the multitude of embedded hardware and software components which are part of life support systems, power plants, and countless other devices and machines supporting the first human outposts outside of planet Earth.

Our software will foster collaboration, learning, and team communications. Expedition crews must be able to fix, repair, and tweak the system in a safe and easy way. Our software will be open source.

Features

The software stack will be large, spanning many disciplines, interfaces, and knowledge domains:

Life Support:

  • Warning systems (air, radiation, fire, chemicals)
  • Space & surface suit maintenance
  • Safety (escaping, fire fighting, training, drills)
  • Contamination (chemicals, dust)
  • Cleaning & housekeeping
  • Accidents & prevention
  • Radiation management

Food & Water & Bio:

  • Food generation
  • Water & air generation/purification/recycling
  • Farming/planting/weeding
  • Cooking/food preparation
  • Washing
  • Seeds (reproducing, storage, modification)
  • Bio engineering

Healthcare:

  • Medical & medicine databases
  • Remote (recorded) assistance
  • Operating theatre procedures
  • Psychology
  • Dental care
  • Family planning, childcare
  • Infirmary
  • Low-g issues
  • Medical records

Building & Construction:

  • Architecture & design, building plans
  • Dome construction
  • Re-use of landing vehicle materials (dismantling, cleaning, repurposing)
  • Storage space/warehousing (construction, placement, heating, cooling)
  • Construction material creation
  • Road construction
  • Furniture
  • Insulation
  • Zoning (safety, future growth)

Organization:

  • Law/judging
  • Arbitration
  • Conflict resolution
  • Schooling/education/training
  • Surveys
  • Politics/voting
  • Death/burial
  • Space law

Equipment:

  • Equipment handling and training
  • Cars/vehicles/fleet management
  • Machines/power tools (repair, maintenance)
  • Radar (ground, water detection)
  • Communication dishes
  • Clothes (maintenance, making, repairing)
  • Laboratory equipment
  • Motors/batteries maintenance
  • Wheels/tires maintenance
  • Parts management

Engineering:

  • Mining
  • Electricity (grid)
  • Reactors
  • Metallurgy
  • Chemistry
  • Recycling
  • Glass making
  • Robots
  • Solar energy & batteries
  • Waste management
  • Explosives (mining)
  • Areoforming
  • Mapping

Communications & Computing:

  • On-site computer networking
  • Interplanetary communications
  • Telemetry
  • Data storage
  • Servers, handheld devices, displays
  • Knowledge bases
  • Computing & modeling
  • Recording A/V
  • Programming
  • Office equipment
  • Road transponders
  • Geographical positioning

Planning:

  • Rosters/crew rotation (chores, maintenance)
  • Procurement (Mars inbound cargo)
  • Trip planning (on Mars)
  • Inventory management
  • Rationing
  • Weather forecasting

Entertainment:

  • Sports
  • Exercising
  • Books
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Flowers/gardening

Are you serious?

Yes! We believe there is a fair chance that humanity will set foot on Mars permanently sometime the coming 20 years. Looking at the sheer amount of work that needs to be done we have at least several years of software development ahead to create a decent platform for the first settlers.

Can you tell me a bit more?

Running a large, integrated software stack on Mars presents special problems: there is no wide area network, all hardware used outside habitats must be radiation-hardened, and there is a finite number of spare parts. This means the platform must be small, portable, and able to run on a wide variety of devices in case of dwindling resources.

The software will interface with many different hardware peripherals, ranging from power plants to wrist pads. Hardware and software from various vendors will be integrated into a cohesive, reliable, flexible, and easy-to-use platform.

Different types of user interfaces will be necessary, ranging from laptops, tablets, wrist pads, and in-helmet displays.

New versions of the software will be released and uploaded from Earth to Mars periodically. The settlers will also make modifications themselves.

Who pays for all this?

The company or government which takes the first settlers to Mars will need a platform resembling what we are envisioning. It is our hope they will become a paying customer. Additionally we hope to tap from funds supporting multi-planetary societies.

But isn't e.g. SpaceX building this already?

Perhaps, but we don't know. We think there is a unique opportunity to build a great software platform. A platform which truly improves the lives of the first settlers since they will be exposed to extremely dangerous and harsh conditions. Anything that makes their day-to-day life easier, safer, and more pleasant will mean a lot. The software systems used by people living on the International Space Station today is a hotchpotch of different applications, running on various operating systems, lacking a unified, underlying platform.

How will the company and team be structured?

A non-profit organization will be incorporated and hire full-time engineers to work on this project. Many developers will be able to work remotely, allowing this project to be a truly global endeavor. A small part of the organization will have to be in a single location, in order to provide a central hub when working with our customer(s) and its suppliers.

Will the software be open sourced?

Yes, definitely.

Can the software be used on earth?

Yes, we think so. Several applications can be used e.g. by scientific outposts.

~

Note April 2019 – I still would love to have the resources to develop this system today. On the other hand it would be a perpetual struggle to keep this funded, and team morale would be hard to keep up if the first mission would be postponed several times, by several years.

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