2016 Winner: ASTech Special Award
Making Space History in Alberta
It’s not often that a group etches their name into our country’s history books, but AlbertaSat is on their way to doing exactly that thanks to their mission into space.
AlbertaSat is participating in the QB50 project, a joint space mission involving university students from 28 countries. Each team is building one of 50 cube satellites that will be launched together in December 2016 to the International Space Station (ISS) and then dispersed into the Earth’s lower thermosphere. This launch involves an unprecedented number of satellites, which “allows us to take multiple measurements around the Earth using similar instruments to get an idea of what the Earth is doing and how the atmosphere is behaving,” explains Collin Cupido, the technical lead of AlbertaSat and co-founder of Promethean Labs.
Cupido says this mission is especially important because “the region between orbit and the start of the atmosphere, where things start getting warm as you’re re-entering, isn’t very well understood.” He says the measurements generated by the satellites will provide important data to broaden our understanding of Earth’s ionosphere and upper atmosphere.
AlbertaSat is a group of more than 40 dedicated innovators from multiple disciplines at the University of Alberta. The group is led by undergraduate students Collin Cupido (age 24), Christopher Robson (25), Charles Nokes (22), Brendan Bruner (24), and Stefan Damkjar (22). Together they work on creating a thriving aerospace industry in Alberta by building Ex-Alta 1; the province’s first satellite.
One Small Step for Aerospace, One Giant Leap for Alberta
When AlbertaSat set out to create a cube satellite in 2013, which is a miniaturized version of a standard satellite, they were confronted with many challenges. “We had never built a satellite, so we started out not having any idea what we were doing,” says Cupido.
AlbertaSat persevered and over the course of three years, AlbertaSat successfully developed Ex-Alta 1, due in large part to this expertise and resources provided from local, national and international sources.
“The opportunity to take part in an international mission doesn’t exist without this kind of support,” says Cupido.
While building Alberta’s first satellite is already a monumental achievement, AlbertaSat took it a step further to use this as an educational tool to develop future scientists and innovators in Alberta. “One of our main goals is to educate people on how to make a satellite, because it’s such a big and complex topic,” explains Cupido.
They are accomplishing this by offering educational sessions to grades K-8 and to the University of Alberta science summer camps, covering cube satellite structure, solar energy and the Northern Lights.
Building Blocks for Future Success
The development of Ex-Alta 1 also lead AlbertaSat to create a startup company called Promethean Labs. This entrepreneurial venture is planning to use nano-satellite platforms to monitor greenhouse gas emissions from space. The company will also develop an open source satellite, to allow future space exploration to be more efficient and cost effective. By making satellites open source, Promethean Labs hopes to create a more cooperative global aerospace industry.
Promethean Labs also serves the secondary purpose of creating what Cupido hopes is the start of a large and successful aerospace industry in Alberta.
“By creating a company, and hopefully an entire industry, we can create the opportunity where someone in Alberta (or someone coming to Alberta for school) can learn how to build and operate satellites, and then graduate and enter into the satellite business without leaving the province,” says Cupido.