Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat
Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat. Credit: Andy Kale, University of Alberta

Ex-Alta 1 Will be the First Satellite from Alberta to Launch Into Space Next Week

Next Monday, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket is scheduled to launch from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida with the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. The cargo will include the first ever satellite from Alberta, Experimental Albertan #1 or Ex-Alta 1, a CubeSat which was developed by the AlbertaSat student group at the University of Alberta.

The launch will mark the end of a seven year journey of the more than 50 undergraduate and graduate students, along with faculty members at the University of Alberta to develop and launch their CubeSat. The University of Alberta will join only the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies to build and have their satellites flown.

Ex-Alta 1 was developed as part of the international QB50 project coordinated by The von Karmen Institute for Fluid Dynamics (VKI) in Belgium.

According to VKI the “QB50 mission will demonstrate the possibility of launching a network of 50 CubeSats built by Universities Teams all over the world as a primary payload on a low-cost launch vehicle to perform first-class science in the largely unexplored lower thermosphere.”

The launch Ex-Alta 1 is a part of a group of 28 QB50 CubeSat’s from other universities around the world that will be deployed from the ISS. All told the QB50 project will have launched 36 CubeSats representing 21 countries.

The 28 CubeSats are packed in eleven NanoRacks 6U deployers. Once the CubeSats reach the ISS on the Cygnus spacecraft, they will be deployed from the NanoRacks deployers in two batches separated by 60 days based on the ISS crew schedule.

NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer
NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer taken shortly after successful deployment of two bays of cubesats during Expedition 38. Credit NASA.

Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat to Study Space Weather

The Ex-Alta 1 satellite payloads consist of a Langmuir probe which is onboard all the QB50 satellites along with a digital fluxgate magnetometer (FGM) developed by AlbertaSat.

According to Wikipedia a “Langmuir probe is a device used to determine the electron temperature, electron density, and electric potential of a plasma. It works by inserting one or more electrodes into a plasma, with a constant or time-varying electric potential between the various electrodes or between them and the surrounding vessel.”

The digital fluxgate magnetometer (FGM) payload will be used for high frequency measurements of the Earth’s magnetosphere. According to AlbertaSat their digital FGM’s size and measurement range allows their CubeSat “to preform scientific measurements of the Earth’s magnetic fields that would normally require an induction coil magnetometer. The reduction in mass and power required for function on a cube satellite like Ex-Alta 1 is attractive to the design and operation of future small satellite missions to study the Earth’s magnetosphere and possibly planets beyond our own.”

Other Canadian University Satellites

Other universities are interested in sending CubeSats and at the moment fourteen university teams are participating the 4th Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC).

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge “is a Canada-wide competition for teams of university students (undergraduate and graduate) to design and build a small satellite. The satellites will undergo full launch and space environmental qualification testing, with the goal of launching the winning satellite into orbit in order to conduct scientific research. Unlike many university competitions which are focused on only one department, successful teams in the CSDC are comprised of students from many disciplines – not just from Engineering (Mechanical, Electrical, and Computer), but Science (Computer Science, and the department of any science instruments which are flown), and usually benefit by having students from Management, Commerce, or Education departments.”

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge has been a vehicle for students to learn and work on CubeSats in a competition format with the winning university team having their satellite certified for launch. Unfortunately the competition has yet to raise the necessary funds to launch the winning satellite, which would enable students to participate in a complete end-to-end mission experience. Larry Reeves the founder of the competition, is hoping the government will eventually provide that missing funding.

The University of Alberta is currently working on Ex-Alta 2 as part of the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge.

Note: SpaceQ will broadcast the ULA Atlas 5 launch live starting at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday, March 27.

Update at 7:00 p.m. ET: From ULA – “The launch of the ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-7 Cygnus spacecraft for Orbital ATK and NASA has been postponed. While completing testing for a ground support hydraulic condition discovered during prelaunch testing, a different issue with a booster hydraulic line was observed”. A new launch date will be announced as soon as possible.

Canadian Satellite Design Challenge launch vibration testing at the Canadian Space Agency David Florida Laboratory, Ottawa
3rd Canadian Satellite Design Challenge launch vibration testing at the Canadian Space Agency David Florida Laboratory, Ottawa. Credit: CSDC.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceRef Canada Interactive Inc, CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef U.S., advisor and co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, and director and co-founder of MaxQ Accelerator Inc. Previously he was the founder of Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine which he sold.

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