Monday, February 25, 2013

The Real Winners of the PSLV-20 Rocket Launch

While seven satellites went into orbit today aboard the Indian Space and Research Organization’s (ISRO) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) flight C20 and the majority of the credit for the successful launch certainly belongs with the ISRO, at least one other Canadian organization looks poised to benefit.

The University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL), built two of the satellites (the CanX-3a BRIght Target Explorer and the CanX-3b TUGsat1, which are part of the BRITE constellation of micro-sats), tested and helped launch another (the third in a series of Aalborg University Cubesats or AAU-Cubesat3) and originally helped to develop the methodologies used to build both the Department of National Defence (DND) Surveillance of Space (Sapphire) satellite and the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat).

The manufacturing methodologies used in Sapphire and NEOSSat originally developed out of the Canadian experience with earlier satellites, such as the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) space telescope. As outlined in the May 9th, 2010 post titled "the Microsat Way in Canada" this methodology focused on inexpensive, quickly constructed components used frequently to build up a body of expertise by testing to failure (instead of just testing for functionality), because of the usefulness of the real world knowledge gained.

This methodology was eventually formalized in a paper titled "The Microsat Way in Canada" by Peter Stibrany and Kieran A. Carroll, two employees at Dynacon Enterprises (one of the contractors for MOST). The paper included many the core concepts in what would later become the standard operating procedures at UTIAS-SFL and other organizations.

MOST was developed as a joint effort of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Dynacon Enterprises (which went on to develop NEOSSat under the name MSCI), the University of British Columbia and the UTIAS SFL. 

All of which gives the UTIAS-SFL a direct connection to five of the seven satellites launched.

There's even an indirect connection to a sixth satellite, the innovative Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator 1 (STRaND1), built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and operated by a "Google Nexus One smartphone with an Android operating system" according to the February 25th, 2013 press release "World’s first “phonesat”, STRaND-1, successfully launched into orbit."

Both UTIAS SFL and SSTL (which also helped out with Sapphire) use satellite bus designs derived from designs used by the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT-NA) in the 1970's and 80's for satellites containing amateur radio payloads.

 UTIAS SFL even provides a low-cost launch service through it's Nano-satellite Launch Services (NLS) program.

Nanosatellite Launch Services 8, the eighth launch under the UTIAS SFL Nanosatellite Launch Service (NLS) program, organized the CanX 3a, CanX 3b and AAU-Cubesat3 payloads aboard PSLV-20. To date, the NSL program has successfully launched 16 spacecraft from various countries.

Organizations like these are where the next generation of innovation in satellite design is going to come from, and the UTIAS SFL is a leading player in the process.

Which makes UTIAS-SFL one of the real winners from the PSLV-20 launch.

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