The first ever miniature satellite, or CubeSat, built by a Western team is set for liftoff in Florida tomorrow and will provide students with an opportunity to learn first-hand about space mission development. With countdown precision, Canadian Space Agency also announced today that Western researchers have earned the opportunity to follow up with building a second CubeSat, which will help track bird migration, aptly named the Western Skylark.
A CubeSat is a cubical miniature satellite (with dimensions of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm—roughly the size of a Rubik’s cube), weighing about 1 kg, and can be used alone or in groups of multiple units, to a maximum of 24.
Small, modular and relatively inexpensive to build and launch, CubeSats are the great equalizers when it comes to space exploration and Earth observation. With a focus on delivering equitable opportunities to post-secondary students across the country, CSA launched the Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP) in 2017.
A Western research team led by Engineering professor Jayshri Sabarinathan started with a CCP initiative and has worked in collaboration with Nunavut Arctic College (NAC) since 2018 to create a CubeSat named Ukpik-1.
“CubeSats are recognized as an accessible method for post-secondary students to learn about and demonstrate a satellite with the associated technologies and resources,” said Sabarinathan, a Western Engineering professor and Western Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space) member.
Ukpik-1, Western’s first-ever CubeSat, is set for launch Sat., June 3 at 12:34 p.m. EST from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, with a backup launch date the following day. (UPDATE: Ukpik-1 successfully launched on Mon., June 5 at 11:47 a.m. EST.)
For launch, Ukpik-1 is hitching a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX‘s Dragon cargo ship (CRS-28), having been integrated into the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer as a payload earlier this year at CSA headquarters in Longueuil, Quebec. Upon arrival at the ISS, Ukpik-1 will be ejected through an airlock to begin its space mission.
Ukpik-1’s primary goal, which echoes the promise of CCP, is giving students at Western and NAC an out-of-this-world educational opportunity to learn about a space mission development from end to end (conception to operations) while working closely with academic, government and industry partners.
The secondary, more functional goal is allowing Western and NAC students and faculty the chance to operate an immersive virtual reality camera, provided by Canadensys Aerospace, in orbit while collecting images and data, which they researched and selected.
LIVE FROM CAPE CANAVERAL:
Building a bird’s-eye view
Today, CSA announced Sabarinathan’s team has won a second opportunity to build, launch and operate a new CubeSat through the CubeSats Initiative in Canada for STEM (CUBICS) grant, which is named the Western Skylark.
The work is being done in collaboration with researchers at Western Space, Western’s Centre for Animals on the Move, led by biology professor Chris Guglielmo, and faculty members from Engineering, Social Science and Science, along with a diverse group of partners.
Western Skylark will provide space-based data collection for two established animal migration tracking systems, which surveil birds over great distances but lack the satellite connection required to maximize their capabilities.
“Movement is fundamental to the lives of animals, and due to the seasonality at high latitudes, a high proportion of Canada’s wildlife is migratory,” said Guglielmo. “Understanding the life cycles and threats to these animals requires detailed information about migratory routes and timing, as well as sources of mortality. We hope to deliver this information with Skylark.”
The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a ground-based network of receivers for tracking radio-tagged animals. ICARUS uses sophisticated GPS and multi-sensory transmitters, but currently lacks a space-based platform to receive data from the transmitters.
Skylark will provide near real-time capabilities for the data flow from these two systems and will demonstrate their full potential of collecting critically important data on migratory songbirds, waterbirds and shorebirds.
A key objective of Skylark will be to train several students with experiential hands-on-training in building a CubeSat while learning the skills needed to build and operate space-based instrumentation. It will also provide large cross-disciplinary training by including students in engineering and science working closely to apply technology for an important remote-sensing application.