Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Space Activities at the University of Waterloo

          by Michael Kuntz

The recent June 27th, 2014 post "Canadian Universities in Space," was an excellent summary of the amazing breadth of space activities taking place at academic institutions across the country. Universities play key roles in providing high-risk innovations and preparing the next generation of highly qualified personnel.

The early history of the University of Waterloo. The plaque is located just inside the entrance to the university on University Avenue West across from Seagram Drive.  Photo c/o Alan L. Brown.

Since its founding in 1956 (the year before Sputnik), the University of Waterloo has been a Canadian leader in both of these roles, and today our faculty continues to contribute to a variety of space focused projects.

HIFI pocket guide c/o ESA.
For example, Dr. Michel Fich of the Department of Physics and Astronomy was the Canadian principal investigator for the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel, active from 2009 - 2013 and the largest infrared space telescope ever launched, was one of the cornerstone missions of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Cdr. Chris and Dr. Richard. Photo c/o CSA.
As well, Dr. Richard Hughson of the Department of Kinesiology was the principal investigator for the VASCULAR and BP-Reg medical experiments that were conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by multiple astronauts including Robert Thirsk and Chris Hadfield (who is now a member of the faculty at Waterloo). The experiments were funded by the CSA and supported by NASA.

With ESA sponsorship, Dr. Claude Duguay of the Department of Geography and Environmental Management has been using satellite radar imagery to study the impact of climate change on the thickness of lake and ground ice. An example of some of the work being done in this area is outlined in the video below.

As a final example, for the past four years, Dr. Thomas Jennewein of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) has been leading a proposed Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat) micro-satellite mission that would demonstrate long-distance quantum key distribution from space. Since October 2013, Dr. Jennewein and IQC have been leading a CSA funded project with industrial partners to develop a prototype quantum key distribution receiver (OKDR) that would be suitable for QEYSSat. As outlined in the May 22nd, 2014 IQC post "Quantum satellite one step closer to space flight," Dr. Jennewein’s team was recently awarded a CSA Flights for the Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) grant to adapt the QKDR for an airborne demonstration.

In the current environment of fiscal restraint, there can and should be an increased role for universities to drive Canadian innovation in a cost-effective manner. Amongst our international partners, it is common for universities and research institutions to be the project prime for space science instruments and even entire space missions. For the moment, it is not within the means of most Canadian universities to lead a space mission, however, a strong foundation of technical and managerial capabilities exist at the University of Waterloo and other institutions that would enable academia to lead space instrumentation projects within the next couple of years.

The University of Waterloo looks forward to a continued partnership with government and industry to support the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.
Michael Kuntz is the director of research partnerships at the University of Waterloo.

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