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What do NASA, US Special Operations Command and Blender have in common?

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The answer is: Hugo Shelley, and his crew, having reached the final stages of the Cubesat Challenge with their LSAT system.

The project is a very interesting (little) satellite, capable of helping out soldiers on the battlefield. Read on to find out from Hugo himself how the team got there.

Update: Team LSAT has won one of the four $5000 prizes of The Cubesat Challenge’s 3U category.
Congratulations to all involved for their exceptional work!

What is the Cubesat Challenge?

The Cubesat Challenge is a competition run by NASA and the US Special Operations Command. Where conventional satellites are large, heavy and insanely expensive, Cubesats are tiny, lightweight and low cost.

But with that comes a challenge. How can something the same size as a loaf of bread, 500 km (310 miles) above the surface of the earth and travelling at several thousand miles per hour be helpful to a Special Forces unit in some far flung corner of the world? That’s the competition.


Why did you decide to submit a project?

Several months ago I won a prize in NASA’s previous competition – designing ‘space underwear’ to be used on the upcoming Orion missions. I wanted to do something useful with the prize they gave me, and designing a satellite seemed like a good idea! I’m also a sucker for difficult challenges.

Tell us a few words about your team and about the solution you are proposing for the challenge.

Our team is composed of Catalin (mechanical design), Fereshteh (antenna design), Dani (Blender guru) and myself. In the theme of christening spacecraft with awkward acronyms ours is called LSAT – Low Signal Acquisition and Tracking.

LSAT is a a mixture of origami, radio engineering and mechanical design. Four antenna unfold from the body of the satellite, allowing it to locate extremely weak signals from emergency beacons, handheld radios and remote sensors. This is a world first for a small satellite like this and has applications for search & rescue and emergency communication.

We’re so excited to reach the final round of the competition. It’s possible to see the full project and cast your vote for it here: https://herox.com/cubesat-challenge/entry/16321

How did Blender help in creating the project?

With the engineering work taking up most of our time, this left us with only a few days to put together a convincing flyby animation showing the satellite in orbit.

Blender was the key to making this happen. The fact that it integrates modelling with live previews, animation and compositing makes it a one-stop-shop for projects like this that would otherwise require a separate modelling package, renderer and compositor.

Rendering on RenderStreet freed up some valuable extra time to spend ironing out the kinks and editing in stock footage to create the short film below

What is the most interesting thing you learned during the creation of the project?

That with a small but focused team, anything is possible, even rocket science!

How did the Blender community contribute to this project and what can it do to further help with it?

The greatest contribution of the community is making Blender what it is today. Everything from filing bug reports to writing awesome scripts and tutorials – it’s what makes projects like this possible.

If you’d like to vote for the project, tap the link below:

Bogdan Hunter

Passionate about technology and science, always finding ways to improve processes and technologies.