UMSATS team vindicated with win

Student satellite society charting lofty flight path

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This article was published 01/03/2019 (1315 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A group of university students are orbiting in new heights after winning a major prize from the Canadian Space Agency.

The University of Manitoba Space Applications and Technology Society (UMSATS) won the fourth annual Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, after eight years of attempting to design and build a cube satellite worthy of the award.

Along with bragging rights, UMSATS earned a $10,000 cheque to help bolster technology in their lab and drive innovation in their projects.

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester The University of Manitoba Space Applications and Technology Society won first place in the 2018 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge for its TSat4 cube satellite and were awarded $10,000 on Feb. 25.

“It feels great to win because you get prize money which you can put into technology for the team and it helps bring in team members,” past president Aleksa Svitlica said. “It makes the team really exciting to be a part of, and it allows for expansion and growth.”

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge is a biennial competition for university students that requires teams to build a cube satellite capable of conducting a space mission.

The satellite UMSATS created was designed to carry a payload into low Earth orbit to see how the environment affects the life cycle of algae. The experiment could be a precursor to other studies examining oxygen and food production systems on space flight missions.

Associate professor Philip Ferguson, who holds the NSERC Magellan Aerospace Industrial research chair at the U of M, said the work students submitted to the contest was top notch and industry leading in some respects.

“A huge focus of this competition is on systems design engineering and the systems process that they follow,” Ferguson said. “The team here at the University of Manitoba is no stranger to systems engineering.

“The students themselves have really been the driving force behind this,” he added. “It takes students, it takes young people with their new ideas to kick this industry in the pants. We have been building spacecraft and rockets basically the same way for the past 60 years.”

Ferguson said the students were able to create a functional satellite at a relatively low cost, proving that space flight doesn’t have to be prohibitive.

“We feel that with this movement towards smaller cubesat spacecraft able to do huge amounts of science in space, this is exactly what the space industry needs, and I can tell you industry is paying attention,” he said.

Since the challenge began, the interdisciplinary UMSATS team has been a perennial runner up in the two-year competition, with their satellite design finishing second or third. Svitlica, a graduate of the U of M’s computer engineering program, said it feels good to finally be vindicated with a win. Part of the team’s success came from a new crop of students who were highly invested in the project and enough veteran experience to guide the design.

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester The winning design of the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge created by the University of Manitoba Space Applications and Technology Society.

“We’ve always been a strong team in this competition but have never been able to quite get there,” he said. “It’s a lot of time commitment for students, and as a student team one of the big challenges is people graduate and leave and there isn’t always documentation.”

Valorie Platero, a master’s student in mechanical engineering and six-year member of UMSATS, said the win recognizes years of commitment from the students.

“It feels really good, especially after coming second so many times,” she said. “There’s a lot of hard work and sleepless nights.”

The society is so pleased with its most recent satellite, Platero added, they will be exploring ways to get the piece of technology into space.

“We feel good enough about this one, that we might want to go forward with it,” she said. “We think the experiment is really good and we want to see it happen in space.” 

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