CanSat Design Challenge finalists plan Lethbridge competition April 30

CanSat Design Challenge. Credit: ESA.

Several high school teams plan an amateur rocketry showdown on April 30 in Lethbridge, Alberta as part of the CanSat Design Challenge for Secondary Schools.

They will launch “CanSats” – pop-can sized satellites with computer-controlled science experiments on board – to an altitude of 1 kilometer. In the brief time available, the teams plan to do in-flight experiments and then send the results back to Earth as their rockets descend under parachute.

The full list of finalists in the Advanced Category is as follows, according to the non-profit Canadian Satellite Design Challenge Management Society, which is organizing the challenge:

  • Team Idealite (Vancouver)
  • St. Thomas More Collegiate (Burnaby)
  • Team Zephyr (Surrey)
  • Team SpaceLane, from several schools in the York region (Alexander Mackenzie High School, Beverly Acres Public School, Bayview Secondary School, St. Robert Catholic High School, Richmond Hill High School)

Only the Advanced teams qualify for the competition aspect of the event, although Beginner Category participants are attending as well. The Beginners store the recorded data on board, while the Advanced Category participants transmit the measured data in real-time to a receiving radio antenna that the teams must also build ahead of time.

Lawrence Reeves, who is principal spokesperson for the competition, said the students will learn about aspects of rocketry difficult to simulate in a classroom. They will deal with wind, rain and other weather while working on a site hosted by the Lethbridge Rocketry Club. Students will also work in multidisciplinary teams, which is more representative of the space industry than the artificial class silos (e.g. Physics) in which rocketry is taught in school.

“You have to have people with different skills, as nobody can do everything. Nobody’s going to be the expert on everything,” he said. “You really do have to work like a team, and trust everybody else and do your thing. Help them [your teammates] where you can, communicate what you’re doing, work together.”

Overall, the competition aims to simulate the challenges of spaceflight as much as possible. The teams had to get ready for – and then pass – a critical design review ahead of their mission, which is a key milestone in all space planning. They also had to grapple with the usual constraints of space, time and budget as the payloads launching on the balloons are only the size of a soft drink can. On top of the science, the teams will give industry-style outreach as a part of the competition, including a presentation in front of the judges.

While the benefits of learning these skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) on the scene cannot be discounted, there will be an additional benefit for the winner. That team will represent Canada in June, at the European Space Agency’s international CanSat competition. This event will be held either in-person or virtually, depending on the pandemic.

While the April 30 event is meant for secondary schools, it is part of a larger set of space-themed competitions offered by the non-profit. On the post-secondary side, students may participate in the CubeSat Design Challenge for universities or colleges, which aims to design and build a 3U CubeSat with advice from space industry experts.

The competition will complete in 2023 with a simulated launch vibration test at Canadian Space Agency facilities in Ottawa, and the hope is to deliver the satellite to orbit at some point. If it gets there, one aim of the satellite is to allow radio operators to take a remote “space-selfie” of the CubeSat for immediate downlinking and viewing.

Reeves said the teams held an online set of presentations during Reading Week (a February break for most post-secondary institutions) to receive feedback from the industry representatives. The next major stage will be a critical design review, ahead of the final stages of the competition in 2023.

For now, that means the high school side of the competition takes central stage. Reeves said he is pleased that the campaign – the first official launch campaign ever for the organization – has been going well so far. (He said the judges have been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the work to date, noting it’s far beyond what they expected of high schoolers.)

Planning for 2023 is expected to start shortly. “We’ve had lots of interest from around the country for next year,” Reeves said. “I hope to see more teams getting involved, particularly from smaller locations, smaller communities, and northern communities. We just hope to see it [the competition] expand, and hope to see more young kids getting interested in becoming space geeks.”

Reeves added that more sponsors are welcome for both competitions, and acknowledged the support of Mitacs, a non-profit national research organization that commonly partners with Canadian private industry, academia or government for research and training programs like this.

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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