Canadian university students “emotional” as their miniature satellites launch to the ISS

Yesterday, students from Concordia University, University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan, York University, and Western University watched in awe as their miniature satellites were launched to the International Space Station (ISS).

“It’s quite an emotional moment. Some of the students are going crazy seeing that rocket go up, some with tears in their eyes,” said Tony Pellerin, manager for science and technology at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). “It’s always an amazing moment to see the pride and the joy that these students have, after working so hard for five years on those cubes.”

In April 2017, the CSA announced the Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP), inviting professors and students to submit their proposals to design and build their own miniature satellites, called CubeSats, that would be launched into space.

A year later, the CSA selected the winning teams and awarded a total of 15 grants ranging from C$200,000 to C$250,000.

The project was significantly impaired by Covid-19, Pellerin explained, with school shutdowns and parts shortages, but despite that, 11 out of the 15 selected designs are already in orbit. 

The launch yesterday was the third since the project began. 

The mini satellites, weighing about 1kg, typically hitch a ride into space using extra capacity available on rockets. Over the next few weeks, students will be hard at work ensuring that they can communicate with the CubeSats and that everything is functioning well. Deployment into final orbit is then slated for Jul. 3.

Each university launched its CubeSats for its own specific missions; IRIS from the University of Manitoba, for instance, seeks to study how space conditions affect the composition of asteroids and the Moon. ESSENCE from York University seeks to test a camera to observe snow and ice coverage in Northern Canada and map the thawing of Arctic ice. SC-ODIN from Concordia University will be taking images of the Earth to analyze aerosol particles that can be used to study climate change.

Research will last for about 12 months, after which the CubeSats’ orbits will naturally decay, they will re-enter the atmosphere, and burn up, Pellerin said.

The CCP also intended to increase students’ interest in STEM, give them hands-on experience and develop their expertise in space domains.

Pellerin noted that the CSA has trained over 2000 students since the start of CCP, many of whom have graduated and ended up working in the space industry in Canada.

The CSA today announced nine more grants totalling C$3.15 million to Canadian universities under the CubeSats Initiative in Canada for STEM (CUBICS), aimed at advancing climate change research through space science and technology. 

“It’s a very innovative way of making sure that we have the right brains in the country to tackle these major problems that humanity is facing,” affirmed Pellerin. “We have students that learn how to design and build stuff for space, but they are also working with scientists. And so they have a better understanding of, first, why they’re doing it and how to do it. At the end of the day, we have the privilege of adding a view from space that you don’t get from anywhere on Earth.”

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at [email protected]

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