UPEI to design, build toaster-sized space satellite

UPEI 1 of 15 schools chosen to build and operate its very own tiny satellite

CubeSats or nanosatellites are offering a bounty of data about the Earth as they orbit in space. (Svobodat/Wikimedia Commons)

Students at the University of Prince Edward Island will soon be taking part in an upcoming space mission.

UPEI was one of 15 post-secondary schools across Canada chosen to take part in the Canadian Space Agency’s CubeSat project.

Students from these schools will design and build satellites that will be deployed from the International Space Station between 2020 and 2021.

UPEI’s satellite, called SpudNik-1, will be used for “precision agriculture” that will look at the state of fields on P.E.I., says Nicholas Krouglicof, the associate dean of the School of Sustainable Design Engineering at UPEI.

“We’re going for a fairly difficult application because ours is an imaging application — we want to get images of the surface of the Earth with a suitably high resolution,” he said.

We’re going for a fairly difficult application because ours is an imaging application.
— Nicholas Krouglicof

SpudNik-1 will take photos of fields across the province that will give data on such things as crop damage, disease and infestations, the effectiveness of herbicides, irrigation plans and more.

Big dreams, small toaster

The biggest challenge facing students may not be the science behind it all, Krouglicof said, but stuffing a whole lot of high-tech equipment into a satellite the size of a small toaster.

The SpudNik-1 team from left, Dr. Grant McSorley, Dr. Nicholas Krouglicof, Dr. Aitazaz Farooque, Dr. Bill Whelan, Dr. Nadja Bressan. (Submitted)

“Our big challenge is we’re trying to get two-metre resolution on the ground, that’s going to pose a lot of challenges fitting that into a CubeSat,” he said.

Power, communications, everything that’s needed to make the satellite work — “We have to squeeze all that into the small toaster,” he said.

Graduate and undergraduate students from the physics department and school of engineering will take the reins on the project in the coming years, with different groups of students developing parts for the satellite each semester.

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