Canadian student-designed cube satellites ready for launch


At the Canadian Space Agency in Montreal, teams from Dalhousie University and the University of Victoria have hit an exciting milestone. After designing and building their own miniature satellites to be launched into space from the International Space Station, the teams achieved integration—the last hurdle before the ISS launch in 2023.

We were at the agency for the integration, and it was so exciting to see Canadian innovators reach such a pinnacle of study and exploration,” says Maritime Launch CEO Steve Matier. “Our homegrown talent is long overdue to have their own staging ground for Canadian-made satellites. We’re hard at work building that, and so of course we wanted to be on-hand to celebrate.”


The Dalhousie team’s LORIS (Low Orbit Reconnaissance Imagery Satellite) and Victoria’s ORCASat (Optical Reference Calibration Satellite) are among many applications of a CubeSat, a square-shaped miniature satellite roughly the size of a Rubik's cube. CubeSats can be built within two years with simple, readily-available parts at a fraction of the cost of assembling a large satellite. Designed for short missions of 3-12 months, they do not need thermal blankets, and burn up in the atmosphere upon re-entry, leaving no debris in space.

2015-10-10 - Stefan Damkjar, electrical engineering student at the University of Alberta, building the CubeSat Ex-Alta 1 as part of the university’s participation in the QB50 mission. (Credits: University of Alberta, Charles Nokes)

CubeSats can help test new instruments or materials for complex space missions, or can conduct experiments or take measurements from space. They can measure earthquake activity, track the movement of wild animals, enable telecommunications, or capture images to observe Earth’s natural phenomena and habitats.

The Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP), a national initiative, engages post-secondary students in a real space mission. In May 2018, the Canadian Space Agency awarded 15 grants to winning proposals, with 37 organizations and universities collaborating across provinces and to Europe, Australia and the USA. The integration at the CSA in Montreal was the culmination of all the prep work.

The Canadian CubeSat Project launches students from hypotheticals to a real-life application of the latest developments in space and satellite technology,” says Matier. “They are the next generation of innovators who will launch from our own spaceport and around the world, and we couldn’t be more proud to witness and celebrate their achievements.”


Photo: Canadian Space Agency/University of Alberta, Charles Nokes