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‘Launch’ forth

Students designing and building small satellite to collect big data

Student Life

By Jackey Locke and Deirdre Greene Lono

Engineering students at Memorial are designing and building Newfoundland and Labrador’s first Earth observation satellite.

The cubesat is about the size of a one-litre milk carton, and is known as Killick-1.

The four-year project is a collaboration between the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and C-CORE.

Engineering professor Dr. Weimin Huang and C-CORE’s Desmond Power are the project leads.

Space systems and Earth observation

Dr. Huang has previously successfully applied global navigation satellite system technology for detecting oil spills on the sea surface, detecting sea ice and estimating sea-ice concentration.

Mr. Power is C-CORE’s vice-president of remote sensing. He has more than 25 years of experience developing both hardware and software for satellites.

“The Killick-1 project will contribute significantly to the province’s development of highly qualified personnel in space systems and Earth observation,” said Dr. Huang. “These are inter-related emerging fields of expertise in the evolving global trend of big data analytics to support business, industry and public policy decisions.”

“The ocean plays a huge role in the global climate system and hosts a broad range of human activities; therefore, good knowledge of our oceans is critical,” said Mr. Power. “Killick-1 will operate in space with a low environmental footprint, safely gathering observational data to advance understanding of our planet and mitigate risk to people and the environment.”

Killick-1 team
Members of the Killick-1 cubesat team.
Photo: Submitted

Benjamin Dowden, a graduate student and Killick-1 team member, says that working on the project has provided him experience in a field he “never conceived possible.”

“One of the highlights for the project for me was attending a week-long workshop at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in St. Hubert, Que., which included hands-on training for CubeSat design and assembly and a tour of the facilities, including the robotics mission control centre for the International Space Station,” he said.

“Another highlight would be attending various elementary schools within the Avalon Peninsula to present the satellite project and space to students, as well as partake in space-themed design projects.”

Multiple funders

The project is jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation is providing $200,000 through its Leverage R&D program.

The Canadian Space Agency is providing $200,000 through its Canadian CubeSat Project, which offers Canadian post-secondary students the opportunity to create their own small satellites.

“We have our very own slot to go into space. That is very cool and exciting.” — Desmond Power

Since the project was announced in 2018, the team has worked on the conceptual design and definition of the cubesat’s mission. They moved on to the design and building phases in the fall of 2019.

When the cubesat is completed in 2022, it will be launched from the International Space Station – something the team is very excited about.

“We have our very own slot to go into space,” said Mr. Power. “That is very cool and exciting.”

When the satellite is launched into space, it will orbit 400 kilometres above Earth and use global navigation satellite system reflectometry to collect sea ice, waves and wind data.

This involves receiving direct and reflected signals from GPS satellites to measure geophysical features of the ocean such as temperature, salinity and wave height.

Killick-1 will operate in space with a low environmental footprint, safely gathering observational data to advance understanding of our planet and mitigate risk to people and the environment.

Currently, the Killick-1 team consists of three engineering graduate students and more than 50 undergraduate engineering students.

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