The Open Space Agency chose full-cloud Onshape to design its open-source Ultrascope, a 3D-printed, asteroid-tracking telescope for citizen scientists.

Who Wants to Go Hunting… For Asteroids?

By Darren Garnick / November 19, 2015

In the 1998 movie “Armageddon,” which brought us Aerosmith’s hit song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” a humongous asteroid is on a doomsday collision course with Earth.

Put down your popcorn: In real life, NASA is following more than 1,500 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) which could possibly threaten life on our planet. The problem is that asteroid orbits are not fixed and can change at any time. They require constant monitoring.

To put it bluntly, NASA doesn’t want to miss a thing either.

So the agency uses its space-based, infrared NEOWISE telescope and the giant ground-based Catalina Sky Survey to detect PHAs. However, that’s only half the job. There is a continuous need to conduct follow-up observations, which determine the characteristics of these asteroids. The more data, the better.

Through its Asteroid Challenge Lab, NASA is reaching out to partner with amateurs, organizations and citizen scientists – people like you and me – to support the work of professional scientists. One of these initiatives is called the “Ultrascope,” a 3D-printed, asteroid-tracking telescope that space enthusiasts can build at home for a fraction of the cost of commercially available models.

Created by the London-based Open Space Agency (OSA), the Ultrascope is a robot telescope or Automated Robotic Observatory (ARO) that is powered by any smartphone that has good low-light performance. Working together in a network, multiple Ultrascopes can produce images that can be layered together for scientific analysis.

Onshape enables the Open Space Agency to instantly share its Ultrascope design with any prospective builder worldwide without having to install CAD software.

The Ultrascope design is open source, inviting any interested party to suggest improvements or modifications to the model-in-progress.

To enable contributors to use any computer, the Open Space Agency chose Onshape, the first full-cloud professional 3D CAD system that allows multiple people to simultaneously work on the same design. Because it runs in a browser and on mobile devices, Onshape does not require purchasing an expensive desktop workstation.

“There are a lot of barriers for people to get involved with building hardware,” says OSA engineer Jon Rushton. “One of those barriers is not having a CAD license. Another barrier for hobbyists and builders is having a powerful enough machine capable of running CAD. It was perfect timing that Onshape came around when it did. It gives the general public access to a powerful CAD solution where they could look at our design and branch it and edit it.”

“The beauty of running CAD in the cloud is that it allows many more people to access designs that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” he adds.

Crowdsourced design is close to impossible with traditional desktop-installed CAD. You know the drill: Team members have to check in and check out files and install or update to the same version of software. Collaboration doesn’t happen without endless delays and hassles. But with Onshape, everyone is always on the same version of CAD, the latest version.

That means less time dealing with IT issues and more time to gaze at the stars!


Discover how the Open Space Agency uses Onshape

Topics: Customer Stories