If I told you that over the course of the last seven years upwards of a thousand Canadian students had participated in developing CubeSat missions you might think this was a the result of a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) initiative. You would be wrong though. There was a time the CSA was interested in this, early this decade and before, but poor leadership in government, and to some extent at the CSA, meant the ball was dropped in this area.
In this weeks podcast my guest is Larry Reeves, the founder of the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC). At the recent Canadian Space Society Space Summit I ran into Larry and asked him if he would like to be a guest on the show to talk about this program and provide an update on the current competition.
The CSDC is a Canada-wide competition for teams of university students, undergraduate and graduate, to design and build a small satellite. To be clear, this is a competition where the students create their own team at their respective university. It is not a university led program. They do get some guidance from professors at their institutions. Students must also raise funds to build their satellites. Reeves figures upwards of a 1000 students have participated in the competition which is quite an achievement.
The CSDC is in its 4th competition having completed 3 previous competitions since its inception in 2011. Larry and a core group of volunteers manage the CSDC in their spare time with some support from industry and the CSA.
CSA support is not in funds, but in-kind, with the use of the David Florida Lab to test the teams satellites. And Reeves is happy with that support.
The CSDC could use more support though as they’ve been short on funds to get the winning university teams satellite into space. This is ironic as the CSA has just initiated their own Canadian CubeSat Project where teams will get a ride into space. I still don’t understand why the CSA won’t find a mechanism to send the CSDC winning teams satellite into space. It makes no sense. The contribution the CSDC has made is substantial and ongoing.
Larry’s day job is that of an engineer at the Earth Observation company UrtheCast.
Updated: 5:45 p.m. EST.
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When I first heard that the Canadian CubeSat Project was in the works during last year’s Space Policy Symposium, I was hoping it would be an opportunity for such projects and other similar student endeavours to fly. In essence, push the experience from hardware-centric to mission-centric and foster greater and renewed interest and skills in space-related professions. Help reach out to a greater number of undergrad students, because that’s where the masses are, that’s where it counts if you want to spark large interest, spur renewed innovation, and bring motivated, passionate, dedicated talent into the field — by inspiring and mobilizing the student body to enter the competition.
Well, to my great disappointment, a recent conversation with a professor who applied to the CCP offered me a very harsh return to reality: it’s just going to be another funding mechanism for their graduate students and doctoral fellows strapped for cash, and likely no undergrad student will ever see or hear anything about it. I.e. Pass go, do not collect $200k to fly to space. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great, but reinvigorate the Canadian space sector it will not. Funding the CSDC with one launch every two years would be greater leverage to have more of an impact.
It is unfortunate because for every 30 students who tell me that they dream about a career in the space sector, I see only 1 or 2 who perseveres to get through it. All the others give up and often don’t even bother getting involved in related groups and design teams because they feel their career perspectives are too bleak to even try. We need to inspire them to do it, and that is through initiatives that they can relate to and take part in.