The sky’s no longer the limit for a team of students from across campus who are building Alberta’s first student-designed satellite, which they are preparing to launch in 2013.
AlbertaSat-1, an earth-observing nano satellite designed to conduct scientific research 700 km above the surface of the earth, is the U of A’s entry in the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC), a national university competition to encourage student contributions to the space technology and research industry.
“AlbertaSat-1 provides an opportunity for students to take part in every phase of the development of an actual space mission,” said Jared Bottoms, a mechanical engineering student and a project manager for the team.“A great side of this project is how exciting and challenging designing a space system can be. We are always learning new things and coming to great realizations together.”
Once launched, the satellite will play important scientific and research roles in the atmospheric monitoring of greenhouse gases. “We decided that to benefit our local environment the satellite would monitor changing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and map these globally,” Bottoms said. “We are going to be tackling a major issue for Alberta, and will aid in the environmental monitoring necessary for greenhouse gas reduction in a very novel fashion.”
The satellite, which weighs approximately 3.3 kg, will be equipped with a near infrared spectrometer monitor to distinguish the atmospheric absorption bands of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, and some nitrous oxides. “In other words, we have a sensor that can detect remitted radiation from these harmful gases by analyzing the spectrum of infrared light in various columns in the atmosphere,” explained Bottoms.“We can track changes in the local concentrations of these harmful gases, and see how they change or diffuse near industrial areas or other locations of interest.”The data will be used to monitor emissions and measure the extent of atmosphere concentrations from Alberta’s oil sands and other large industrial regions. Other objectives include expanding observations of greenhouse gases to improve global and regional climate models, and reducing uncertainties of CO2 sources and sinks by improving global greenhouse gas sampling.
“AlbertaSat-1 will be a major step in developing Alberta’s environmental and space science education as well as mark a milestone student accomplishment,” said Bottoms. “The fact that one of the world’s next greenhouse gas modeling tools, a system created to operate in the space environment, is designed by our students here at the University of Alberta is incredible.”
Over Reading Week the team travelled to Ottawa for a critical design review presentation with CSDC and the Canadian Space Agency. “The review was a presentation of our satellite and its subsystems to a panel of judges,” said Bottoms. “The review went really well, we learnt quite a bit, and I don’t think it could have gone better in terms of the constructive feedback and help given.”
For Bottoms, who aspires to graduate studies in the aerospace and astronautical fields and eventually a career in the private space industry, being a part of the team is incredibly valuable. “It is my goal to redefine future generations of space systems in North America,” he said. “I wish to to not only pursue the technical solutions to space industry problems that arise with complex systems architecture for missions beyond low earth orbit, but to bridge the gap between space exploration technology and public interest, business, and policy.”
“AlbertaSat-1 provides direct experience towards my future career goals, as well as provides key insight into the large project management and team communication requirements for a novel technical product.”