Software engineering project launches graduate’s career

An award-winning project into the 3D visualisation of an aerospace launch vehicle has launched student Flynn Doherty’s career with leading aerospace manufacturer and satellite launch company Rocket Lab.

As part of the University of Canterbury’s (UC) Bachelor of Software Engineering (Hons) degree, students must complete a final year project, with many of the projects sponsored by industry.

Doherty’s final year project, which won the 2020 People’s Choice Award at the UC Engineering final year projects showcase, was sponsored by Rocket Lab and looked at alternative methods for visualising the state of Rocket Lab’s electron launch vehicle.

“During flight, there is an incredible amount of data being transmitted and my project aimed to use this data to reconstruct the vehicle in a virtual 3D environment so that operators and engineers could easily – and visually – determine the position, attitude and general state of the vehicle. The 3D visualisation platform also presented the opportunity to spatially represent vehicle data to allow operators to view data about the vehicle in a physically based, intuitive manner,” he says.

“Through this project, I’ve learned a lot about developing software that conforms to stakeholder requirements as well as a bunch of new technologies that are increasingly applicable to my career in the software industry.”

The project came about after talking to Rocket Lab senior software engineer Chris Ching during an internship at the company in the summer of 2019. Ching says that given the great work Doherty did during his internship, it was easy to justify the project.

“We went through the team’s backlog of projects and matched one with UC’s requirements that would allow Rocket Lab to develop something we typically wouldn’t have spare resources to try. We were able to approach this project with a clean slate and prove out some technical concepts that we can now incorporate into our internal tooling. I think industry engagement offers an applied, practical perspective for students, so was really pleased with the outcome.”

Doherty will join a number of UC alumni at Rocket Lab as a software engineer working specifically on flight operations software.

“It’s an exciting role that enables me to work with a number of other teams to ensure that operators in mission control can effectively monitor, test, and launch the electron rocket. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the smartest and supportive people in the industry,” he says.