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U of M alumnus reaches for the stars

August 8, 2012 — 

When the first commercial vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station splashed into the Pacific Ocean west of Baja, California, earlier this year, a tracking device made by a Faculty of Engineering alumnus was instrumental in its recovery.

TomTessierThe fleet of boats waiting to retrieve the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) spacecraft –called Dragon — were all equipped with Field Tracker 2100 made by Solara Remote Data Delivery Inc.

“It’s waterproof and rugged and perfect for maritime,” said Tom Tessier, Solara’s founder and president. “Guys take them on ships and accidently drop them down steel ship ladders. They do not break.”  Tessier, who received his Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Faculty of Engineering in 1997, is a former space communications and satellite system designer with Bristol Aerospace and founded Solara in 2006. He said being included in the historic SpaceX project is great and the development of his device is gaining traction with demanding customers.

After taking time to perfect the prototype, over the last few years he has sold about 1,000 of the devices that sell for $1,300 to $1,500 each. His first customer was the Polar Continental Shelf Program, which provides logistical support to researchers from governmental, non-governmental and foreign organizations conducting scientific field work across the Canadian Arctic. It’s now used by resource companies, adventurers and military units in remote locations around the world.

The devices transmit regularly — they do not have to be turned on — can send and receive text messages and additional features such as base station map tracking are being added all of the time.

Solara was the first device of its kind to be certified to connect with the Iridium satellite phone system. In addition to making the devices — produced in Winnipeg by E.H. Price (Chairman & CEO, Dr. Gerry Price, U of M Engineering Class of 1970) — Solara derives recurring revenue as a wholesaler for Iridium airtime around the world.


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