Beautiful technology: The Open Source Satellite Initiative

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Beautiful technology

Song hojun is an engineer.

His background is electrical engineering and computer science--he completed his Master's at ICU Engineering in Korea. He works on things like satellites and sophisticated machines designed to avert war.

Integrating Exhibition at Gwang-Ju, Korea 12/2/2007~25/2/2007
"Weapons of Mass Happiness" (from, Integrating Exhibition at Gwang-Ju, Korea,12/2/2007~25/2/2007

You might think that he works for a government, or an independent security contractor.  Maybe a research firm or a high-tech test lab. His work, of course, would be confidential--probably protected by a million copyrights and non-disclosure agreements.


Song hojun is an artist.

Make no mistake--he is still an engineer.  His projects combine elegant software and graceful structural engineering in ways you might not expect--neon with fabulous pumps, impenetrable sculpture hiding high-uptime servers, brilliant and beautiful flashing lights whose beat is orchestrated by sophisticated environmental analysis. 

But his projects also ask--through beauty /and/ science--fascinating questions.

The experiment that caught our eye (thanks to a reader suggestion) was the Open Source Satellite Initiative (OSSI, for short). It is--at its most basic level--a PDF with various schematic details and mechanical (and political) approaches for building a home-brew satellite--or global orbiting device (convenient snappy acronym? GOD). As their documentation explains, the project was conceived on several levels--first, as a way for any person interested to learn about and experience the universe, thorough basic satellite technology. Firsthand. Not institutional, not governmentally regulated, but directly.

Beautiful Weapons, NYLON korea first issue, September 2008. installation art by song ho jun; photo by sally choi; editor cha hwa young; light painting hong jae woo; assistant choi you jin.
generator from "Beautiful Weapons," NYLON korea first issue, September 2008. installation art by song ho jun; photo by sally choi; editor cha hwa young; light painting hong jae woo; assistant choi you jin (from

Second, he explores the idea of "unpractical technology”--advances or idea that (at this point in time) are considered fantasy. Things that might be desired or imagined, but not considered pragmatic or necessary. He argues--I believe--that what is imaginary and fantastic today, may be necessary and useful tomorrow. And even if it does not seem directly useful, exploring and satisfying curiosity through fantasy fulfills basic human needs. In short, we should be willing to dream big more often.

"When art becomes practical, we call it technology.  When technology becomes useless, we call it art.”  (from the OSSI manual)

And lastly, the project had two motivators that touch on the work we do here at (and the usefulness of collaborative intelligence) and the spread of what they've termed Very Kind Open Source (with a--probably joking--TM). Both these principles seem at play in the creation and the distribution of the OSSI work--it was conceived and executed by a group working together, and what they learned is openly offered (under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 unported license) to others.

peace + Love Exhibition & 3Story, chungdam (12.20~1.20), Solo Exhibition
UV LEDs are dimming and flashing as collective intelligence: each light has a microprocessor(PIC12F675). peace + Love Exhibition & 3Story, chungdam (12.20~1.20). Solo Exhibition (from

And not just openly offered--their "Very Kind” addition to "open source” specifies that in addition to making plans and instructions available, they should also be accessible. Through illustration, through allegory, through demonstration, with humor--all part of the art of communication.  Emphasis, perhaps, on the art.

Song hojun, with unusual beauty and curious plans, reminds us that open source isn't just about making the process available--it's about making it accessible.  To anyone, for the betterment of us all. Weapons of mass happiness, indeed.

Song hojun is an artist.



Song hojun's website (OSSI, Weapons series):

The open source satellite manual:

Open Source Satellite Initiative:

The Strongest Weapon in the World:

Photos, scanned-in playbills, gallery notices from 2005-2008 (, lots of great photos and detail / project info buried here):

Lee jang sub's website (Message to the universe):

Editor, writer, and developer. I wear many hats, including the red one. Graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism; long-time interest in all things geeky. Editor of Red Hat Magazine and grizzled industry veteran, including time as an archivist for SunSITE UNC (now and ten-plus years at my current gig. I love:

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.