VT's inspireFly team envisions selfies in space
Virginia Tech’s winning idea gives the general public the opportunity to take a selfie from space, with a deployable boom and camera extending from their cube-satellite. Photo produced in Systems Tool Kit by Simran Singh

Ever dreamed of taking your selfie game to new heights — literally? 

The out of this world idea of incorporating selfies in space secured one Virginia Tech team first place at the national Astranis Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Satellite-II competition. Founded in 1980, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space is the largest student-run space non-profit organization in the world that empowers young people to participate and make an impact in space exploration. 

The team from Virginia Tech, inspireFly, was selected as the winner for its ContentCube project, a unique and personalized space experience that includes a selfie-stick that captures pictures of an external LCD screen in space and incorporates images submitted by the general public.

While there are  a large number of active cube satellite (CubeSat)  projects performing observations and collecting data in existence already, the competition challenged teams to think bigger and explore and push the boundaries of a CubeSat to design a novel 10 centimeter cube satellite.

“As we brainstormed ideas, we wanted to get the general public excited and make the experience of space, local,” said Ben Strickler, team lead and a senior majoring in aerospace engineering. “Very few people have ever had the chance to gain access to space. We saw an opportunity to give them that personal connection by appealing to younger generations through our selfie project while also testing a new technology in the space environment.”

The undergraduate student team’s proposal was hailed by the judging panel for the novelty of its concept and its technical approach of testing LCD screens in space. Once developed and launched into space, users would submit a photo to the ContentCube website. The photo would then be uploaded to the satellite via the Virginia Tech ground station, taken with a camera on a deployable boom, and routed back to the ground station again. The result is a selfie taken in space with Earth as the backdrop, available to anyone.

Kickoff for the project began a year ago at the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space annual SpaceVision conference, where interested teams had the opportunity to attend  the competition’s sponsors Astranis and Nanoracks’ workshop on designing, building, and integrating a CubeSat for low Earth orbit. 

Thirteen chapters from across the country entered the competition and submitted proposals. Proposals were judged on engineering design, non-technical development and support of the design, professionalism of proposal, novelty of the proposed CubeSat mission, and demographic makeup of the design team.

The undergraduate team from Virginia Tech placed first over SEDS chapters such as Rice University, Purdue University, CU Boulder and and the joint team from MIT, Tufts and Northeastern.
The undergraduate team from Virginia Tech placed first over SEDS chapters such as Rice University, Purdue University, CU Boulder and and the joint team from MIT, Tufts and Northeastern. Photo by Danny Flynn

The inspireFly team is comprised of over fifty undergraduate students from across the College of Engineering, College of Science, and the Pamplin College of Business and is advised by a team of researchers and faculty at the Center for Space Science and Engineering Research, or Space@VT. About a dozen team members will be presenting their winning concept at SpaceVision 2019 in Tempe, Arizona, in November.

Excited to hit the ground running, the team will be seeking sponsorships and begin building and testing their ContentCube, and will see it launched to the International Space Station via Nanoracks in the next two to three years.  

- Written By Jama Green