CSA Awards $3.15 Million to Student CubeSat Projects

Team members from the University of Alberta in a clean room at the Canadian Space Agency. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has awarded $3.15 million in grants to nine Canadian universities to design, build and launch CubeSats into orbit.

Built on a standardized 10 cm by 10 cm by 30 cm frame for ease of launch, these CubeSats are being funded by CSA’s CubeSats Initiative in Canada for STEM (CUBICS) project. CUBICS is the successor to the agency’s Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP), which will mark a third deployment of these miniature satellites from the International Space Station (ISS) on July 3, 2023. Under the CCP, the CSA trained over 2000 students in building CubeSats, and many of them have since joined the Canadian space industry.

“The CSA’s CCP has been very successful to date, with a total of 11 Canadian-made CubeSats now in orbit,” said Tony Pellerin, a CSA manager who focusses on space science and technology. “So we wanted to extend that success in training university students to design and build CubeSats, by launching CUBICS with an emphasis on satellites that are geared towards climate change-related missions. That said, our main goal remains to train students on how we do stuff for space with the assistance and support of CSA engineers, so that these students are ready and able to assist industry when they graduate.”

The nine CUBICS CubeSats being funded by the CSA are being built on university campuses from Victoria to St. John’s, and they all have their unique takes on measuring climate change-related data. “For example, the University of Alberta will launch a CubeSat that will be measuring snow ice coverage in the Canadian Arctic,” said Pellerin. “The data it collects will have a direct impact on the understanding of how climate change is affecting snow accumulation in the north and the Northwest Passage. This study will also help northern communities understand what’s going on with climate change so they can better prepare for it.”

Meanwhile, a CubeSat being built by the University of Saskatchewan will test radiation mitigating technologies to better protect computer hardware in space. Another CubeSat being built by London’s Western University will track migratory wildlife using the Motus and ICARUS telemetry systems, and a third one being constructed by the University of Victoria will conduct space-based Earth, oceanic, and atmospheric imaging.

The recipients of the nine CUBICS grants have two years to complete the spacecraft and deliver them to the CSA for launch. “Just to make things a bit more fun as well as providing good experiences for the nine teams, we’re not only providing access to the ISS but also opening the door for Sun-synchronous orbits,” Pellerin said. “This will put these CubeSats into a higher inclination orbit via a direct rocket launch, so they have a better coverage of the northern latitude. So if we don’t have another COVID type of situation going forward, we should be able to help these teams meet the two years’ time frame for launching nine new missions into orbit.”

All the selected projects:

  • University of Alberta – Ex-Alta 3: Measuring ice and snow coverage.
  • Concordia University – SC-FREYR: Integrating AI for satellite image processing and improving performance and robustness of CubeSats.
  • Dalhousie University – STEM engagement through satellite development and observations.
  • University of Manitoba – IceCube: Making space accessible for Arctic climate change research.
  • McMaster University – PRESET: A CubeSat mission for spectrometry of charged particles.
  • Memorial University of Newfoundland – Killick-2: A CubeSat for ocean monitoring in support of climate change adaptation.
  • University of Saskatchewan – RADSAT-SK2: New radiation mitigating technologies for computer hardware in space.
  • Western University – The Western Skylark: a 3U CubeSat for next-generation tracking of migratory wildlife using the Motus and ICARUS telemetry systems.
  • University of Victoria – SKYA’ANAsat: Space-based Earth, oceans and atmosphere imaging CubeSat.

About James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning satellite communications writer. He has covered the industry since the 1990s.

Leave a Reply