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University of Manitoba leading the space race

April 20, 2012 — 

Space raceCan living organisms survive a trip through space from one planet to another?

That’s what the satellite design team from the University of Manitoba is hoping to find out. By loading a colony of tiny organisms called tardigrades onto their satellite, the students want to find out if life can survive the vacuum and extreme temperatures of space. A tiny camera will chart the organisms’ progress and relay images back to Earth.

“We want to revive them in space, watch them grow, move towards a food source and reproduce,” said team leader Dario Schor, 27, a graduate student in computer engineering. “This is fairly ambitious. It hasn’t been done in a satellite of this scale ever before.”

How did this get started? Well, it’s a space race, university-style.

Science and engineering students across Canada are setting their sights on the final frontier. Their two-year mission: build a small operational satellite using off-the-shelf components capable of conducting scientific research while orbiting the Earth.

The winning team in the inaugural Canadian Satellite Design Challenge will see their satellite launched into space, where it will remain in orbit for at least a year.

The competition, which began in September 2010, is the first national contest for university students that offers a crack at space exploration. Teams from 12 universities are involved, but a recent review of the designs at the Canadian Space Agency’s Ottawa facility put three teams in the lead, the University of Manitoba, Concordia University, and the University of Saskatchewan.

The satellites, known as CubeSats, are about the size of a thin shoe box and are small enough to piggyback on rockets launched for other space exploration missions.

The University of Manitoba team has over 100 registered students from Engineering, Science, Business, Architecture, Art, and Graduate Studies that contributed to the project since October 2010 with the largest group coming from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. This includes students from first year all the way through Ph.D. programs, thus providing a strong core for this mission as well as laying the foundation for future missions at the University of Manitoba. At the moment, there is a core group of 35 students that are working on various aspects of the project.

The students are supported by a team of over 50 advisors from academia, industry (specifically aerospace from Magellan Bristol Aerospace), government, military, amateur radio community, and others. The advisors attend regular review meetings for the full project and some of the subsystems to provide feedback on the design.


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