The Canadian Space Agency Awards 31 Grants for its FAST Program

CSA FAST Program. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced that it had awarded 31 grants totalling $6.2M for its Flights and Fieldwork for the Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) program to 16 universities.

According to the CSA the FAST Program “supports the development of space science and technologies and enables students and young researchers to gain hands-on experience in space-like missions. Grants are issued to Canadian post-secondary institutions (colleges and universities) following a competitive process.”

The grants awarded during this funding round will go to remote sensing investigations, CubeSat technologies including a novel Reflector Array SAR Antenna, atmospheric and other studies using balloons, propulsion innovations for rockets and more.

This FAST program had the following main objectives:

  • Develop and maintain a critical mass of researchers and highly qualified personnel (HQP) in space-related areas in Canada;
  • Expose students to practical experiences, allowing them to gain space science and technology knowledge and skills sought by the industry and other employers; and
  • Increase scientific knowledge and/or develop new technologies.

The grants were divided into three categories;

  • Category A – End-to-end space-like mission projects: The institutions were awarded grants of up to $400,000 for end-to-end space-like mission projects that include technology development, use of the technology during a flight or a field deployment, and data collection and analysis. These projects are expected to last up to three years.
  • Category B – End-to-end space-like mission projects or any phase of such a project: The institutions were awarded grants of up to $200,000 for end-to-end space-like mission projects or any phase of such a project. These projects are expected to last up to three years.
  • Category C – Small space-related research projects: The institutions were awarded grants of up to $100,000 for small space-related research projects. These projects are expected to last two to three years.

The projects that were funded are;

Category A

McGill University – Dr. Jeffrey Bergthorson: PREWAVES-Patterns: Metal-Combustion Experiments on TEXUS 56/57 Sounding Rockets towards Zero-Carbon Propulsion & Power Systems for Earth and Space.

(Montreal, Quebec $397,507)

With a growing demand for greener and cost-effective fuel alternatives for space missions, metal fuel presents itself as a sustainable fuel option by producing clean energy without greenhouse-gas emissions on Earth.

The PREWAVES-Patterns project aims to develop and test new space metal fuel instruments, and validate those instruments in low-gravity parabolic flights. This project will ensure that the Canadian team can take part in the sounding rocket launch during the TEXUS 56/57 missions, as well as support the development of metal fuels as a zero-carbon energy solution consistent with a future low-carbon society.

Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR) -Dr. Simon Bélanger: The WISE-Man Project: WaterSat Imaging Spectrometer Experiment (WISE) for Optically Shallow Inland and Coastal Waters Assessment.

(Rimouski, Quebec $399,960)

Often populated, coastal areas are particularly sensitive to environmental changes. Accurate mapping of coastal zones is crucial for scientific advancement, resource management, security and defence operations. However, Canada’s coastline mapping remains relatively incomplete due to its vast extent and difficult access to several shallow zones. Advances in satellite technologies, especially hyperspectral remote sensing, can help fill this gap.

The WISE-Man project aims to test the WISE hyperspectral camera while building solid Canadian expertise and skills regarding the processing and analysis of this type of data that may soon be available on operational Earth observation missions via satellite.

University of Toronto – Dr. Kaley A. Walker: CALASET-II: a Balloon Payload to Investigate Atmospheric Gases Using Mid- and Near-Infrared Laser Spectroscopy.

(Toronto, Ontario $400,000)

Reliable measurements from space are critical for evaluating the atmospheric models used to predict the changes occurring in Earth’s climate. These models provide crucial guidance for air quality forecasts, climate change predictions and disaster response planning.

The CALASET-II project aims to design, build and test innovative instruments to measure concentrations of atmospheric trace gases as function of height. These new instruments will allow identification and quantification of specific gases, such as carbon dioxide, and help verify measurements obtained from the satellites that observe Earth’s atmosphere.

University of Toronto – Dr. Calvin Barth Netterfield: Visible and Near-UV Wide-Field Imaging from the Stratosphere.

(Toronto, Ontario $400,000)

Many of the most pressing questions in astrophysics and cosmology, such as the effects of dark energy on the cosmos, can only be addressed through wide-field imaging in space.

The objective of this project is to design and build the GigaBIT telescope, a diffraction-limited 1.3 m visible/near-UV wide-field imaging telescope, and conduct its first engineering flight. This project also aims to fly and analyze data from GigaBIT’s predecessor, the SuperBIT balloon-borne telescope. These telescopes, by providing large images of distant galaxies, will help probe the distribution of dark matter through distortions in space caused by gravity. It will advance the technology of optical and near-UV telescopes and pointing systems, and advance our understanding of cluster physics, in addition to providing Canada with the most sensitive near-UV/visible imaging telescope in the world.

University of Waterloo – Dr. Richard L. Hughson: Coded Hemodynamic Imaging to Enhance Astronaut Health.

(Waterloo, Ontario $400,000)

Several gaps in knowledge are currently limiting human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit. In order to send humans safely on long-duration spaceflights and exploration missions, a full characterization of risks, and better tools to monitor health of astronauts, including effects of countermeasures, will be required.

This project aims to fully develop a technology to monitor cardiovascular health of astronauts with zero effort. Coded Hemodynamic Imaging is a novel, non-contact method of tracking measures of human health and well-being by pairing machine learning algorithms with wide-field imaging by a camera system capable of processing light from the visible and near-infrared spectra. In addition to facilitating future space exploration, this technology has potential applications to a wide range of human health conditions on Earth which could benefit from zero-effort, continuous monitoring of cardiovascular health.

York University – Dr. Sunil B. Bisnath: Technology Demonstration of Soil Moisture Monitoring with Reflected Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Signals.

(Toronto, Ontario $399,630)

Measurements of land surface soil moisture are vital for analyzing melting tundra and permafrost in our changing climate. They are also of great interest to a wide variety of fields, e.g., mining, farming and urban development.

The Global Navigation Satellite System Reflectometry (GNSS-R) technique provides insight into certain surface conditions. Making use of freely available GNSS signal reflections over land for remote sensing would represent a significant step forward. This project aims to develop a prototype GNSS-R receiver capable of making customizable surface reflection measurements from space of surface soil moisture content and variation, using signals from the many GNSS satellites currently in orbit.

Category B

McGill University -Dr. David Hanna: High-Energy Light Isotope eXperiment (HELIX)

(Montreal, Quebec $196,900)

The HELIX project will measure the energetic particles bombarding Earth, known as cosmic rays, using a detector carried to an altitude of 45 km by a stratospheric balloon launched from the coast of Antarctica.

The flight will result in data that will lead to a deeper understanding of the magnetic fields and interstellar material in our region of the Milky Way Galaxy. In particular, it will help determine the origin of the rising fraction of energetic antimatter which has been found in the cosmic rays.

Memorial University of Newfoundland – Dr. Penny L. Morrill: SERP: Study of Electrical Potential, Remote Sensing, and Preservation of Biosignatures at Sites of Serpentinization 

(St. John’s, Newfoundland $199,943)

Water rock reaction, known as serpentinization, has the potential to support life on other worlds (planets and moons). Detecting life at sites of serpentinization on other worlds requires the ability to find serpentization sites and detect biosignatures.

The SERP project aims to develop, deploy and validate geophysical, spectral and remote sensing methods to detect surface and sub-surface expressions of serpentinization. It will help detect serpentinized springs and identify biosignatures of current life and biomarkers of past life.

Polytechnique Montreal – Dr. Étienne Robert: Small-Scale Test Facilities for the Development and Characterization of Novel Hybrid Rocket Fuel Systems

(Montreal, Quebec $200,000)

Access to space is of critical importance to a broad range of fields of science and industry, including space exploration and telecommunications. However, launching remains a complex and expensive task. There is a need to reduce the cost of access to space by finding novel means of propulsion.

The purpose of this project is to develop a simple and low-cost method of testing how liquefying solid fuels burn under the conditions encountered in a hybrid rocket engine. A novel laboratory-scale facility will be developed for the investigation of the fluid properties of the melt layer formed on the surface of rocket fuel as it burns. The experiment will focus on the development of new propellant formulations for hybrid engines.

University of Alberta – Dr. Christopher Herd: Investigating and Refining Advanced Curation Methods for Future Sample Return 

(Edmonton, Alberta $198,440)

More and more missions in our solar system involve robotically retrieving samples from the surfaces of planets and other planetary bodies (such as asteroids and comets) and bringing those samples back to Earth. Preserving these samples against changes while on Earth is critically important.

This project will investigate the best ways to preserve samples returned from future missions. The team will develop and refine advanced methods for astromaterials curation, which is the preservation of the intrinsic properties of samples through the use of materials, tools and enclosures. This project will help extend Canada’s leadership in cold curation.

University of Calgary – Dr. Johnathan Kerr Burchill: CaNoSat-1: Low-altitude Causes of Ion Upflow 

(Calgary, Alberta $199,999)

A significant quantity of Earth’s upper atmosphere escapes to space each year in the form of an upper-atmospheric polar “planetary wind.” Generally, these winds can alter planetary atmospheres on geological timescales.

The main objectives of this project are to develop a mini plasma imager, which is a miniaturized particle sensor designed to measure ionized winds and temperatures from nanosatellites; and train students in experimental space physics. This project will increase scientific knowledge of the physics of Earth’s magnetic cusp region, which will lead to better space weather forecasts. A concrete application that could derive from this project is a flight of the mini plasma imager on a nanosatellite mission such as CaNoSat-1.

University of Calgary – Dr. Christopher Cully: Rapid Deployment Airborne X-ray Project (RDAX)

(Calgary, Alberta $200,000)

High-energy particles rain down into Earth’s atmosphere every day. This “energetic particle precipitation” can rapidly change the near-Earth space environment and cause possible long-term effects, including climate effects.

The RDAX project aims to quantify the amount and distribution of high-energy particles deposited during geomagnetic storms by using Canadian-made X-ray imagers placed on 15 high-altitude balloons. The instrument will take images of high-energy particles striking the atmosphere. The data will allow researchers to disentangle the causes of high-energy particle precipitation and its effect on our environment.

University of New Brunswick – Dr. Jayachandran P. Thayyil: Towards Forecasting Global Positioning System (GPS) Phase Scintillation Occurrence at High Latitudes: Canadian High Arctic Scintillation Model (CHASM)

(Fredericton, New Brunswick $198,000)

GNSS support a wide range of civilian and military applications and have become indispensable in precise positioning and timekeeping. As our society depends increasingly on space technologies, and as our environment affects our daily life more than ever before, solar-terrestrial interactions and their impact on the geo-space environment have become increasingly relevant to Canada’s economy and society. Understanding these interactions will enable us to predict and forecast space weather and subsequently mitigate detrimental effects on communication and navigation technologies and other infrastructure.

This project aims to develop a GNSS scintillation forecasting capability for high latitudes and ultimately provide alerts and warnings to clients and the general public, when and where GNSS availability or position accuracy may be significantly compromised due to space weather events.

University of Saskatchewan – Dr. Li Chen: Develop and Validate Radiation-Tolerant Microelectronics for Canadian Space Applications

(Saskatoon, Saskatchewan $200,000)

Future spacecraft will have more complex avionics that produce large amounts of data, requiring enhanced on-board information processing and rapid delivery of results to end-users.

This project aims to develop radiation-tolerant, reliable, lightweight, low-power and cost-effective microelectronics based on advanced commercial available technologies for space applications. The project will also help accelerate current research on radiation effects in space systems.

University of Saskatchewan – Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova: Protecting Astronauts from Space Radiation-Induced Carcinogenesis and Central Nervous System Damage with Melanin-Containing Food and Materials

(Saskatoon, Saskatchewan $200,000)

Radioprotectors are needed to protect astronauts from detrimental effects of space radiation. Melanin is known to protect fungi and other organisms from high doses of ionizing radiation. Thus, melanin-based radioprotectors could help solve the problem of radioprotection in space.

This project will investigate the protective anti-carcinogenesis effects of melanin-containing black mushrooms when ingested, study its effect on preventing colon cancer, and evaluate the radioprotective effects of melanin-containing materials on the central nervous system. This research could also have benefits on Earth, since radioprotectors are also needed for protection of cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

University of Toronto – Dr. John Richard Bond: Analysis of Cosmic Microwave Background Polarization Data from the Second Flight of the SPIDER Balloon-borne Telescope

(Toronto, Ontario $200,000)

Exploring the nature of the universe at its earliest times is one of the most exciting scientific goals in cosmology today. SPIDER is a polarimeter designed to test our most fundamental theories of the beginning of the universe by measuring or constraining the amplitude of primordial gravitational waves.

SPIDER is a set of six telescopes that observe the oldest light we can see, the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. The second stratospheric balloon flight of SPIDER will take place as part of this project, to observe the Cosmic Microwave Background polarization at three wavelengths. It will be able to produce very high-sensitivity dust maps, allowing for much better removal of foreground dust and better imaging. An efficient suite of software tools will also be developed in order to analyze the raw data from the balloon payload. The data will allow for the testing of fundamental cosmology theories.

University of Victoria – Dr. Maycira Costa: Use of Ocean Colour Satellites to Characterize Waters along the Migration Route of Juvenile Salmon in British Columbia and Southeast Alaska

(Victoria, British Columbia $199,100)

The coastal oceans of British Columbia and southeast Alaska are highly dynamic and support regional food webs that are vital to the local economy. Changes in this coastal dynamic may have negatively contributed to the observed decline in the return of various salmon populations. Continuous data with sufficient spatiotemporal resolution is fundamental to the understanding of this problematic.

This project aims to develop a multi-satellite-based framework to provide information at the needed scales to assist ecosystem-based fisheries management. The data collected from the satellite will be combined with in situ observations. This will provide critical insights into the coastal ocean’s dynamic and its drivers. The project will then translate this work into accessible knowledge and products for use by government, industry and others.

University of Victoria – Dr. Colin Goldblatt: Windows to Worlds: Science Readiness and Requirements for Small and Large Exoplanet Characterization Missions

(Victoria, British Columbia $199,999)

Preparing for observations of terrestrial exoplanets – potential Earth-like worlds in other stellar systems – is one of the highest priorities. As exoplanet-observing missions are developed, there is an urgent need to understand the surface and atmospheric environment of a wide parameter space of potential exoplanets, in order that the best design and engineering choices can be made when these telescopes are built.

This project aims to develop a complete suite of terrestrial planet models, which will more fully sample the parameter space of the evolution of Earth-like planets, including those with and without life. It will help improve our understanding of planetary habitability and of how to detect habitable conditions and inhabited planets.

Western University – Dr. Kenneth A. McIsaac: Development and Field Evaluation of Advanced Algorithms for Autonomous Scientific Investigation 

(London, Ontario $199,650)

Modern planetary rovers and orbital instruments generate multiple data products. However, data transmission capacity from space to Earth is currently limited. This can result in observations not being made and experiments not being performed because there is no bandwidth available to get the data back to Earth. In order to maximize the return from field explorations, rovers and satellites of the future will need the ability to make independent decisions about what to explore and transmit preliminary analyses of data to Earth.

This project aims to develop and field test algorithms and systems for autonomous scientific investigation. The techniques developed will also enhance terrestrial applications in agriculture, infrastructure monitoring and mining.

Western University – Dr. Gordon R. Osinski: Icy Mars Analogue Program (IMAP)

(London, Ontario $200,000)

Understanding the evolution of Mars will give us new insight into the habitability of planets and global climate change. It is critical that we characterize its water ice reservoirs to understand its hydrologic system and how it has changed over time. This has profound implications for the search of life on Mars and for future human explorers who will require an accessible source of water to sustain long-term operations.

The IMAP project aims to enhance our understanding of glacial and periglacial processes on Mars through the investigation of terrestrial analogues in the Canadian High Arctic. It will help develop an unprecedented and potentially profound understanding of the water ice reservoirs on Mars and how they have changed over time.

Category C

McGill University – Dr. Lyle Whyte: Development of a Micro Nucleic Acids Extraction Platform for Biosignature Detection in Planetary Exploration

(Montreal, Quebec $100,000)

Astrobiology and the search for life in our solar system is a major focus for planetary exploration. Current instruments used to detect biosignatures remain high mass and large in size, and have high energy requirements. Such instruments are not suited for missions to locations in deep space, for which lander packages are likely to be tightly constrained.

This project aims to develop and optimize a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) extraction platform in the laboratory to be incorporated into the prototype MICRO life detection platform with several low-mass, compact, low-cost and low-energy instruments. The proposed extraction platform could be robotized and integrated into future planetary exploration space missions.

Polytechnique Montreal – Dr. Jean-Jacques Laurin: Reflector Array SAR Antenna for CubeSat

(Montreal, Quebec $99,990)

Significant work is underway to develop affordable platforms for remote sensing space missions. A synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for a nanosatellite, such as a CubeSat, could contribute to reducing the cost of future Earth observation missions.

This project aims to design a reflector array antenna that could be fitted onto a CubeSat for a SAR space mission. It will help develop Canadian expertise in this area.

Queen’s University – Dr. Virginia Katrina Walker: Characterizing the Replication Rate and Error Rate of DNA Polymerase I in Microgravity

(Kingston, Ontario $14,685)

Space radiation has damaging effects on human DNA, a molecule essential for biological function, acting as the genetic code for all life. This challenge has been well documented, but the effectiveness of DNA repair and replication pathways in a zero-gravity environment has yet to be investigated. As we prepare for long-duration missions, there is a need to address this problematic.

This project aims to investigate the function of the DNA polymerase I, an enzyme involved in the repair and replication of DNA, in conditions of microgravity. This experiment will help increase understanding of the issues related to maintaining the integrity of astronauts’ DNA in space.

Ryerson University – Dr. Anton de Ruiter: Attitude Control System for Cube-SAR

(Toronto, Ontario $100,000)

The implementation of SAR on small satellites is an emerging area of interest in the international space community, as it would reduce the cost of future SAR missions. In order to achieve SAR implementation on this type of platform, there is a need to adapt the technology.

This project aims to analyze and design an attitude control system (ACS) for SAR implementation on small satellites (CubeSats). In particular, tools will be developed to optimize ACS design for CubeSat-based SAR missions and to analyze their performance. The development of Canadian expertise in this area will allow Canada to maintain its position as a leader in the field of SAR satellites.

University of Calgary – Dr. Susan Skone: Global Navigation Satellite System Technology Development for CubeSat Science and Navigation

(Calgary, Alberta $99,000)

CubeSat constellations offer low-cost access to space with the potential to continuously monitor remote geophysical, environmental and space phenomena. As CubeSat applications evolve, there is a need to increase platform capacity to support next-generation GNSS technologies.

This project aims to develop multi-function GNSS software receiver technologies for CubeSat platforms. The team will also develop an end-to-end simulator capability used to design and test the space-borne GNSS receivers for low Earth orbit missions.

University of Ottawa – Dr. Guy Trudel: Effects of Artificial Gravity on Vertebral Fat Fraction

(Ottawa, Ontario $100,000)

Deterioration of bone, muscle and tendons is a well-known and important problem occurring in microgravity. As we prepare for longer mission duration, implementation of artificial gravity onboard spacecraft could be a solution to this common problem.

This project aims to investigate the effects of artificial gravity in preventing the consequences of bedrest on vertebral fat fraction and Achilles tendon integrity. The team will conduct a human spaceflight analogue through bedrest. This research could have broad implications for health care on Earth, since bedridden patients also face deterioration of bone, muscles and tendons.

University of Ottawa – Dr. Anders Jensen Knudby: In situ Calibration/Validation Measurements of Remote Sensing Reflectance for the Arctic

(Ottawa, Ontario $99,550)

Ocean-colour remote sensing is used to monitor a multitude of physical and biological characteristics and changes in our oceans, and to produce bathymetric maps (maps of seafloor habitats). This technology relies on atmospheric radiative transfer models calibrated with data from low-mid latitudes, and frequently fails in the Arctic, where the humidity and composition of the atmosphere is different. Since global environmental change is most rapid in the Arctic, there is a need to address this situation.

This project aims to improve atmospheric correction for the Arctic, for current and future ocean-colour sensors. The team will produce a large dataset containing field observations of the water-leaving light field, as well as ancillary information on water depth, benthic habitat and water quality. This will allow researchers to test and improve their calibration/correction approaches.

Western University – Dr. Catherine Neish: Volcanic Analogues for the Exploration of Mars

(London, Ontario $100,000)

Volcanism is one of the most common geologic processes on the surface of Mars, giving us key insights into the origin and evolution of the only other habitable world in the solar system.

This project will use volcanic terrains on Earth as analogue sites for the future exploration of Mars. This project aims to determine the roughness of lava flows using radar remote sensing data, compare the roughness of the lava flows as observed in the field to remote sensing data, and understand the rheological rationale for the observed lava flow texture. It will allow the scientific community to have a deeper understanding of volcanism on Mars.

Western University – Dr. Stanimir Metchev: Surveying the Best Hosts for Detecting Earth-like Extrasolar Planets

(London, Ontario $100,000)

The discovery of Earth-like planets and their atmospheric characterization are two of the priority goals in space astronomy. The discovery of planets around brown dwarfs – giant planets’ more massive kin – has the potential to find the best habitable zone planets for characterization. It would also constitute a major discovery towards the understanding of planet formation around low-mass stars.

This project aims to advance the detection and characterization of extrasolar planets and their atmospheres by observing and studying the host stars and brown dwarfs that are most amenable to discovering potentially habitable planets. The project will lay the groundwork for the observations made by the James Webb Space Telescope, to which Canada has contributed, by furnishing some of the best targets for the study of exoplanetary habitability.

York University – Dr. Gordon Greeley Shepherd: In-flight Assessment of the Performance of a Spatial Heterodyne Spectrometer for the Measurement of Upper Atmospheric Temperature

(Toronto, Ontario $100,000)

There is an ever-increasing need for atmospheric measurements of greater spectral and spatial resolution as well as improved global coverage in order to better understand atmospheric processes in the context of climate change. Spatial Heterodyne Spectroscopy (SHS), a space technology that recently emerged, has the potential to meet this need.

This project aims to support Canadian participation in the assessment of the performance against the design parameters of an SHS for the measurement of atmospheric temperature from airglow, which will be launched on a satellite in the near future. It will build on solid Canadian expertise and skills in the use of this new capability in the future.

York University – Dr. John Moores: MAPLE: Mars Atmospheric Panoramic Camera and Laser Experiment

(Toronto, Ontario $100,000)

Understanding the nature of the dust and ice aerosols near the surface of Mars is important to fully understand the Martian atmosphere, in preparation for human exploration. A dedicated atmospheric camera to perform optical meteorology could meet this need.

The MAPLE project aims to advance the development of a small panoramic camera system developed for spaceflight and intended to be used to investigate the Martian atmosphere from the surface. The instrument will be enhanced in order to allow the MAPLE system to examine the vertical distribution of dust and ice aerosols near the surface and to determine the size and shape of these particles. As our models of the Martian environment are derived from terrestrial weather forecasting models, proper validation on Mars will improve the accuracy and timeliness of weather forecasting on Earth.


Correction: A previous version fo this story indicated the total contract value was $16.2M when in fact it is $6.2M.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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