Thursday, November 30, 2017

Update on the 2017 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge

          By Chuck Black

According to Larry Reeves, "I don't think the satellite challenge has been derailed by anything or anyone recently. I think we're alive and well and absolutely moving forward with our latest challenge."

Teams from the University of Waterloo (top-left), Simon Fraser University (top right), University of British Columbia (bottom left) and the University of Victoria (bottom right) competing for the 2017 CSDC at UrtheCast HQ in Vancouver on November 2017. Photo's c/o CSDC.

By day, Reeves acts as the "senior systems non-engineer in an engineering role" at Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast, but he spends his evenings and weekends shepherding the latest crop of Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC) teams.

He spoke with this blog in response to the November 20th, 2017 post, "Entrepreneurs, Luxembourg, a Canadian Space Agency Secondary Payload Proposal & Maxar Technologies," which discussed the overlap between what the CSDC has been doing with university student run teams since 2011 and a recent Canadian Space Agency (CSA) request for proposal (RFP) to fund cubesat missions to be launched from the International Space Station (ISS).

"Originally, as we first heard about the CCP concept. it was hard not to escape the perception that both the CSA and the CSDC were going after the same audience," said Reeves. "But after a bit of discussion, it was quickly evident that there are several differences between them."

According to Reeves, "the CSA proposals are driven by professors and may be focused at the grad student level. The CSDC teams are driven by the students - both graduate and undergraduate, not their professors, and there are no limitations on the number of teams in each province which can participate." As well, the CSDC teams are also required to raise their own operational funding, while the CSA program offers grants of up to $200K for successful applicants.

Taken together, there is plenty of opportunity fot both to co-exist, said Reeves.

As outlined in the November 29th, 2017 CSDC press release, "CSDC Teams Complete Design Reviews and Radiation Testing Workshop in Vancouver," the current iteration of the competition has just finished its critical design reviews (CDR), plus completed a workshop to test the teams' satellite electronics in a simulated space radiation environment.

According to the press release, the CDR presentations were hosted at UrtheCast HQ, in Vancouver:
Eleven of the fourteen participating teams gave 2.5-hour comprehensive presentations on the designs of their satellites and missions. The presentations encompassed technical details of the satellite sub-systems (power, attitude determination and control, communications, structure), the plans for how each team is managing their project (schedules, budgets, and risks), and a summary of the educational outreach activities they have done."
The presentations were judged by a panel of experts from Canadian and US space companies and from the CSA and the CSDC Management Society, which organises the CSDC competition.

Along with Reeves the judges included:
  • Maarten Meerman, the systems engineering lead for low Earth orbit and small satellites for San Jose, CA based Space Systems Loral (SSL), a subsidiary of the newly-formed Maxar Technologies. Meerman has been a judge or workshop mentor in all previous CSDC offering.
  • Adam Latour, the lead product developer with Toronto, ON based Kepler Communications. Latour has also been a judge in a previous CSDC offering.
  • Eric Gloutnay, an EMC & electronic component engineer with the CSA. Gloutnay is also a radiation effects expert, and assisted the teams in the radiation testing workshop.
  • Stefanos Derminakis with UrtheCast, who was a member of the Space Concordia University team which won the first CSDC in 2012. This makes him the first CSDC alumnus to participate as a judge.

During the same week as the CDR's, the teams also participated in a radiation testing workshop at the Tri-University Meson Facility (TRIUMF) at the University of British Columbia. 

TRIUMF has the world's largest cyclotron, which can be used to simulate the radiation environment in space, and test the robustness of electronics hardware, as well as the software which is required to detect and recover from the degrading effects.

According to Reeves, the CSDC teams will now proceed to the build and test phase of their CubeSats and will hopefully incorporating the judges' CDR suggestions.

Once assembled and ready, the cubesats will undergo a test next spring which simulates the vibration that the CubeSats will experience during launch and then a final winner will be announced. For a list of the teams participating in the current CSDC, check out the CSDC website at

As with many other items on this blog, this post will be updated as new information becomes available.
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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