Chasing problems all the way to space

On sending code off into the great unknown…

Fung Fellowship
4 min readNov 30, 2022

By Anmol Parande, Conservation + Tech Fung Fellow 2020–21

I know exactly what I’ll be doing at the beginning of December: Watching a live cast of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket blasting off into space carrying code that I wrote. More specifically, it will be carrying a satellite that runs my code and dropping it off in a geostationary transfer orbit where the satellite will subsequently wake up and fly itself to geostationary orbit and stay there for at least seven years. I know this because it will be the first production satellite launched by Astranis, a next-generation internet satellite startup based in San Francisco, CA where I work as a Flight Software Engineer.

Flight software is the code which runs on the satellite as it hurdles around the Earth at three kilometers per second. It includes the firmware which runs on the microcontrollers which interact with the hardware subsystems; the applications which run on the flight computer and coordinate the various subsystems; and the code which allows operators to command the satellite from the ground.

Anmol Parande, FF Honors ’21, writes flight software for satellites.

Writing flight software is a far cry from where I started my journey in computer science. The mobile and web applications I built during high school were what set me down the path to be a software engineer, and as I entered college, that was what I thought I would stick with in the future. But as I took courses in electrical engineering, I realized that I really loved to write code that lives at the intersection of hardware and software. This type of code often has to work with data being streamed from sensors and send commands to actuators that do something in the real world. There are constraints like real-time execution and human/machine safety. It is also heavily multidisciplinary, requiring knowledge of the entire system you are building. So while I still learned about algorithms, data structures, and the other aspects of computer science, I specialized in signal processing, control theory, and embedded systems.

At the same time that I was exploring my technical interests, I was also searching for ways to apply them. The great thing about EECS is that your skills can be applied in virtually any domain. The catch is that in order to effectively solve a problem, you need domain knowledge. Unfortunately, as students, we’re typically exposed to and have domain knowledge of a limited set of problems. These are the problems of everyday life like how to be more productive, how to organize our life, how to find better music, how to find new recipes, etc. But there are so many issues that we often don’t think about. My time with the Fung Fellowship was instrumental in gaining exposure to some of these problems, from chemical fertilizers seeping into the groundwater in Washington to human-cheetah conflict in Botswana to wind farm development off the California Coast. These are hard problems, and not all of them can be solved by software and hardware alone, but sometimes software and hardware could be part of the solution.

“My time with the Fung Fellowship was instrumental in gaining exposure to problems [that we don’t often think about].”

More than the technical fields I was specializing in, it was these types of problems that captured my interests. I see what I learned in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) as a means that can be used to solve a number of ends. However, I also believe that a deeper level of technical understanding opens the door to solving more types of problems, and although I was diving deep with my coursework, it wasn’t deep enough. This thinking is what led me to replace my fourth year at Berkeley with the one year master’s in EECS program. The master’s program was great because it allowed me to dive deeper into my interests through both research, which established new understanding, and classes, which went over what has already been discovered.

After developing a technical foundation and deepening my desire to work on challenging, multidisciplinary problems, it was time for me to start applying for my first full-time job as a software engineer. I selected companies to apply to based on the depth of my interest in the problem they were solving. To me, the impact of my work is what ultimately matters, even more so than the technology that is being used. In that sense, Astranis was a great fit because it allowed me to apply my technical skills to the tremendous problem of providing fast internet to the four billion people who currently have limited internet access, and it had the added benefit of exercising an interest in space that I’ve had since childhood.

As I continue to work at Astranis and grow both personally and professionally during my postgraduate career, I plan to continue defining my life in this way: centering my career around the problems I can solve and learning the technologies required to solve them effectively.



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