Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Nunavut’s Cubesat is a Community Activity

          By Brian Orlotti

While the big money being spent on Canadian space activities continues to go towards salaries and office space in Ottawa and Montreal and into components for large US led initiatives, the participants in the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Canadian Cubesat Project (CCP) are slowly beginning to roll out their smaller, locally focused projects.

And one of the more interesting projects is a team up between London, ON based Western University and Nunavut Arctic College (NAC) to build Nunavut’s first satellite.

As outlined in the May 7th, 2018 post, "Canadian Cubesat Project Finally Moving Forward," the program, rolled out last summer, provided grants of between $200,000 - $250,000 to fifteen proposals submitted by university professors to build and launch small cubesats (normally a low weight, 10×10×10 cm cubic satellite) by 2020.

The CSA solicited post-secondary schools across Canada for proposals for a miniature CubeSat that professors and students could design and build together. In 2018, the CSA awarded grants to 15 projects among submissions from every territory and province.

A CubeSat normally has a mass of no more than 1.33 kgs (2.9 lbs) per unit and often uses commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components for their electronics and structure. CubeSats are typically placed in orbit by deployers on the International Space Station (ISS), or launched as secondary payloads on a rocket. Cubesats were intended to democratize satellite technology by adopting a standardized form factor and COTS components to reduce costs.

The objective of each Cubesat project differs, ranging from space exploration to asteroid geology. Taking a different tack, the Western/Nunavut team chose to place two 180-degree cameras on both sides of their CubeSat, enabling them to create 360 degree imagery of the Earth, Moon and other astronomical bodies that can be viewed using virtual reality headsets.

The satellite is being pitched as an inspirational tool for the people of Nunavut.

Overview of the CCP. Graphic c/o CSA.

Western University, owing to its aerospace and engineering programs, serves as technical lead on the project. Over the past year, Western students have worked on a preliminary design.

As outlined in the April 9th, 2019 Nunatsiaq Post article, "Nunavut reaches for the stars with CubeSat," Western staff traveled to Nunavut in February 2019 to confer with NAC on ways to increase NAC’s involvement in the project.

Several ideas have been put forth, including holding public surveys on what sort of imagery to capture (i.e. ice flows, Norther Lights, etc.), etching symbols and syllables from Inuit folklore into the CubeSat, and having students in NAC’s jewelry and metalwork program design and create a component of the satellite.

In addition, a contest was recently held to submit names for the satellite.

Essentially, it's becoming a community activity, which is an interesting way of looking at a satellite development program. Maybe there are lessons to be learned here for the rest of us. Given the current PR coming out of the CSA, it's something that the rest of the Canadian space community should note.

The CCP’s CubeSats are to be launched from the ISS in 2021 or 2022. The Western/NAC satellite will have an operational life of 1 year.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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