Concordia University Captures First Place in Canadian Satellite Design Challenge

It’s up, up and away for the winner of the first-ever Canadian Satellite Design Challenge. On September 29, an astronautical engineering group from Concordia University received the top honours at the Canada On Orbit Gala in Ottawa.

The gala marked the end of an intense two-year competition in which twelve national teams raced to design a new satellite. The teams were comprised of undergraduate and graduate students from Canadian universities across multiple provinces. Some of the participating universities included York University in Toronto, the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Competitors were instructed to build low-cost CubeSat satellites using inexpensive materials. CubeSat satellites are known for their miniature size and relatively cost-effective design.

Due to the fact that they can be built with ordinary, commercially-available materials, they are a popular choice for engineering departments at major universities. The satellites underwent extensive testing, including a Preliminary Design Review in 2011 and a Critical Design Review, before the final round of competition. Each project also underwent environmental qualification testing.

Throughout the design and review process, space mission experts provided mentorship and guidance to the teams. Despite their input, major decisions on the projects were made by the students.

The satellites were designed with a specific research goal in mind, and most of the participating teams launched websites to educate the public about their timeline and objectives. Research topics varied widely from team to team.

While one school examined the ability of organisms to survive in space, another looked at the relationship between seismic and atmospheric activity. The winning team from Concordia University, whose satellite will be launched into space in 2013, plan to study an area within the Van Allen radiation belt called the South Atlantic Anomaly.

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge was sponsored by Vancouver-based Geocentrix Technologies, a consulting company which specializes in space missions and high-tech industry. The competition also received support from other Canadian manufacturers and organizations, including Magellan Aerospace, the Canadian Space Society, and Microsat Systems Canada.

The goal of the competition was to expose university students to innovative scientific research, but it had the added benefit of drawing public attention to the space mission program in Canada. In addition to hosting the awards ceremony for the Satellite Design Challenge, the Canada On Orbit gala also marked the 50th anniversary of the Alouette-1 satellite, which was launched into orbit on September 29, 1962.

In celebration of Canada’s first satellite, the Canada On Orbit gala was attended by several original members of the Alouette team. With its focus on explorative, interdisciplinary research, the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge heralded a meeting of scientific minds that was truly out of this world.

Now that the competition has officially come to an end, Canadians can look forward to seeing another piece of home-grown innovation nestled in the sky.