Seven Canadian university teams are at CSA headquarters this week readying their CubeSats for a launch in March.
The group represents the next tranche of the Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP) that coincidentally, saw part of an earlier group fly into space successfully on Saturday (Nov. 26) aboard a SpaceX Falcon Dragon. (Those CubeSats were from Dalhousie University and the University of Victoria, as SpaceQ recently wrote about here.)
The milestone flight to the International Space Station represents what will be the ultimate goal for the teams working near Montreal this week, as they will be finalizing integration. The full list of participants in this round include Yukon College, the Aurora Research Institute, the University of Alberta, McMaster University, Concordia University, Université de Sherbrooke and York University.
“The students have reached a point where they have completed the CubeSat building and testing, and they have a goal from Nanoracks for integration – conditional to a few final checks, like a fit check,” said Tony Pellerin, manager of the mechanical-engineering group at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) who is helping to oversee the students’ progress as technical lead for CCP.
Assuming the progress continues and launch schedules hold, the seven satellites should fly into space on March 2 aboard a SpaceX Dragon to the ISS for deployment by an astronaut within four to five weeks after the satellites reach the orbiting complex, Pellerin said.
CCP was first announced in April 2017 and the 15 grants were announced in May 2018. The various CubeSats should be brought to the ISS in 2022 and 2023 and individual missions may last as long as a year, according to CSA materials.
The CSA has said these are the goals of the CubeSat project:
- Increase students’ interest in STEM, particularly in space domains;
- Develop students’ expertise in space domains;
- Give students hands-on experience and prepare them to enter the job market; and
- Advance space science and/or technology.
When asked by SpaceQ how the CCP is doing in meeting these goals so far, Pellerin said that anecdotal evidence shows that a high percentage of students participating in the program have remained within the space industry after graduation. At the launch last week, for example, 15 students from several university teams attended and six of those are current space industry participants, Pellerin noted.
The rigors of learning “how we build stuff for space” are useful for related disciplines too, he emphasized. The ISS has human safety requirements that are quite exacting, which students are trained to meet or exceed, and they also learn about the design, testing and integration phases of CubeSat creation – all the way from design reiews to pre-launch reviews.
“You’re going to scrutinize your design and make sure everything meets the requirements that are set by NASA, and the requirements that you have for your mission,” he said, noting that related skills they have built include meeting technical standards and procedures – which is applicable to numerous industries in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
The students are also learning to navigate obstacles all the way up to launch time; the group that flew down to the Kennedy Space Center to witness the ISS launch saw it canceled at T-4 seconds and delayed by several days, a quite normal facet of spaceflight that students will need to get used to, Pellerin said.
But in terms of launches, it wasn’t all bad news; by coincidence, the Eutelsat 10B telecommunications satellite was launching the same evening as the original ISS launch and the students were able to watch Eutelsat from a Floridian beach, Pellerin said.
Pellerin said another round of CubeSat design opportunities should be scheduled to go out relatively soon within the university community, so that more students have the chance to go to space with real-life hardware while they are still in school. You can read more about that program, called the CubeSats Initiative in Canada for STEM (CUBICS), in this past SpaceQ story.