Hackapella 3.0: Squintier, Slewier, Fastier!

Authors: Nate Ricklin and Jason Brown

Capella’s third-annual hackathon was one for the books! The event that has now become tradition, brought people from across the company to collaborate on the next big synthetic aperture radar (SAR) innovation—or just a fun project.  

As you can probably tell from this year’s theme “Hackapella 3.0: Squintier, Slewier, Fastier”, the purpose of the hackathon is to have people break out of their usual routines in a creative atmosphere with no boundaries. The only rule we enforced was to have no rules. We encouraged participants to explore any ideas they may have that challenge our current SAR technology, regardless of what their day-to-day role entails. “Squintier, Slewier, and Fastier” refers to desired improvements in Capella’s constellation to make the system even more capable and agile and to further increase our imaging capacity.  

This year, 37 project ideas were put forth, with many participants choosing to take part in more than one. Teams were formed to work on projects ranging from mission awareness tools and visualization techniques to analytics and hardware improvements. We had only allocated an hour and a half for teams to present rapid-fire demos of their projects, but as you can imagine, it took a lot longer than that to get through all 37! The team then voted on the projects to determine this year’s winners, with special mentions for several sponsored bounties. Sponsored bounties are additional challenges identified by employees; the winner of the best solution receives a gift certificate and gets to task an image of their choice with Capella’s constellation!  

Hackapella is full of surprises!  

The first day kicked off with our own Dan Byrnside presenting his manager, Jeff Karp, with the DoD’s Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Patriot Award. This award is granted when an employee serving in the United States National Guard or Reserve nominates a work supervisor in honor of their flexibility and support of the employee’s service to the National Guard. Dan expressed that Jeff has been a consistent supporter of his service in the SC Army National Guard since the very first day he joined Capella. Congratulations to you both! Thank you for sharing this special moment with all of Capella Space. 


As with last year’s Hackapella, participants could compete in various side quests, such as the greatest number of tacos consumed, the Golden Gate and Hawk Hill bike ride, and Best High-Five video, among others.


2022 Winners and Standout Projects 

Communication Breakdown 

The first-place winners in this year’s Hackapella are David Philpott and Carl Pang with a project called Communication Breakdown. The project was a hardware hack that redesigned the radio-frequency solid state power amplifiers for Capella’s high data rate communication system. The new design boasts higher power output with greater linearity, a lower error rate, and better signal-to-noise ratio all at a reduced cost! Congratulations, David and Carl! 

Pixel Polishers 

Second place Hackapella winners—and winners of the Products Choice Award—are Jim Klucar and Jisu Ryu with their project, Pixel Polishers. Using a variety of adaptive image processing methods on Capella’s VHR data, including side-lobe removal and automatic focusing, they were able to create the highest-resolution, lowest artifact, most visually interpretable images available. 

As we can see in the examples below, the image on the left has vessels against the larger vessel with sidelobe returns caused from an unknown source.  With the reduction of these sidelobe returns we can see more details from each vessel. 


Physical Pretty Picture Maker 

Have you ever wanted your own high-quality, SAR images to hang as artwork in your home? This project does just that!

Duncans and Dragons 

The team ported a text-based adventure game engine to the Capella flight computer, and then wrote a custom Capella-themed text-based adventure game that people could play on!

Want to Join Hackapella Next Year? 

We’re actively hiring at Capella! If you want to join Hackapella 4.0, check out our current open roles in our Careers page. There’s a lot of work to do and ideas to discover. We can’t wait to have you on board!

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