• A group of high school students who plan to launch a satellite into space use Overleaf to collaborate

    Posted by Natalie on July 24, 2019

    Overleaf was delighted to sponsor the blair3sat project with a free Overleaf Group Account. They wrote this little blog about their project and how they used Overleaf. :)


    blair3sat is a group of high school students which plans to launch a small satellite into space. Any STEM field requires its participants to write scholarly articles, which in our case are even more essential to secure funding for our new team. Thanks to the generous team at Overleaf, we can now easily script high-quality LaTeX papers collaboratively in real-time over the internet.


    When we first formed our team, we had to establish our goals and the pathways for meeting them; through this process, we repeatedly found professional, scientific writing to be a strong medium through which we could demonstrate our knowledge. However, our team had hit a roadblock: We couldn’t write papers through a Google Doc due to the professional quality for which we strive. When we decided to instead script our papers in desktop-based LaTeX editors, we faced challenges with the language’s steep learning curve, and the nature of local file storage also complicated our already-formidable task of organizing high schoolers. In our first paper, titled Space-based Ionosonde Receiver and Visible Limb-viewing Airglow Sensor (SIRVLAS): A CubeSat Instrument Suite for Enhanced Ionospheric Charge Density Measurements, we spent countless hours to produce a document which looked regrettably similar to 2005 hard-coded websites. Our team grew frustrated and decided to contact Overleaf support, which was generous enough to grant us a free group account.

    Through our new Overleaf membership, our twenty team members can seamlessly collaborate on professional-looking documents over the internet in real time. As of this post’s publication, blair3sat is drafting a conference paper. One of our favorite features unique to Overleaf has thus far been the Rich Text mode, which we have found quite helpful when asking science-focused team members—many of whom have limited LaTeX experience—to add background information. We’re extremely grateful for Overleaf’s grant, which has saved us many hours in our high school team’s production of professional-quality scientific and mathematical content.

    Who are we?

    blair3sat is based in Rockville, Maryland and established in 2018. Most of our members come from the Montgomery Blair High School Magnet Program, but we are growing to include other schools such as Walt Whitman and Richard Montgomery High Schools. Our goal is to launch a satellite into the ionosphere to measure charge densities and detect airglow in the atmosphere. Scientists can then use the data we collect to understand radio and interference with in the ionosphere, circumvent communications issues, and generate better ionosphere models, amongst other applications. We also focus on community outreach and involving younger students in the sciences through outreach events and STEM Nights at local elementary and middle schools. Our group plans to launch by 2022. Since we have no reliable monetary pipeline, we rely on grants and donations; since we are a relatively new group, we must demonstrate our plan’s feasibility, oftentimes through professional-quality collaborative papers—thanks, Overleaf!

    Why do we need LaTeX?

    LaTeX is not a traditional word processor, rather one that allows users to more completely control the formatting and layout of their document, rendering the final product more easily readable and digestible. LaTeX is the standard for scientific papers because of the ease with which users can integrate mathematical equations, diagrams, charts, and data tables. However, not everyone in blair3sat was experienced with scripting in LaTeX. Even for members who were, working on the desktop, compiling in a separate window, and uploading to GitHub was quite tedious. Our small group relied on an even smaller subset to actually write the document in LaTeX, which led to middlemen between brain and paper—that is, until Overleaf.

    Why Overleaf?

    Overleaf is a program that allows us to write papers in LaTeX without the hassles of underdeveloped desktop compilers. Errors are easy to spot in Overleaf, which highlights them and offers quick fixes. We can view both the script and the PDF result updating simultaneously, which allows adept-but-new users like many of us to correct ourselves before we move too far forward. Thanks to Overleaf, creating readme-esque documents on GitHub or WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) documents on Google Docs will not be the only option for us anymore.

    Read more about blair3sat on their website: https://blair3sat.com/

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