University of Victoria students’ tiny satellite aims for the stars

From the Victoria Times Colonist… A tiny satellite about the size of a shoebox has earned a team of University of Victoria engineering students a prestigious national award that will help them launch their project — and their careers — into orbit.

The university’s ESOSat club won the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, beating out five other universities with their nanosatellite.

“We’re very excited. There’s still quite a bit of work to do and testing verification, but we’re confident it’s going to work perfectly and exactly as we expect,” said Cass Hussmann, a master’s student in mechanical engineering and the project’s chief engineer.

The six finalists had to prove their satellites could withstand the harsh environment in space by undergoing vibration tests at the Canadian Space Agency’s David Florida Laboratory in Ottawa at the end of May.

The students incorporated a material called pyrolytic graphite and high-powered lasers that could allow the satellite to be manipulated using magnetic fields, said Devin Pelletier, a third-year electrical engineering student who is project manager. That could lead to breakthroughs in new forms of space travel and more efficient control systems for spacecrafts.

“The problem right now with spacecraft is most of the control systems are based off of fuel ejection or mass ejection,” Pelletier explained. “It’s pushing a little bit this way to push you in the other direction. The problem with that is you’re very limited in the amount of fuel you can carry. With this material and the fact that you only have to use lasers to control it, we can basically generate the energy from the sun, which is why [the satellite] is covered in solar panels.”

The students will also analyze the pyrolytic graphite’s ability to shield radiation.

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About the challenge:

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge is a Canada-wide competition for teams of university students to design and build a small operational science research satellite known as a “3U- cubesat” or “triple-cubesat”. These satellites measure 34cm x 10cm x 10cm, and have a maximum mass of 4kg.  The satellites will undergo full launch and space environment qualification, with the goal of launching the winning satellite into orbit to conduct scientific research.


Beyond the primary goal of designing and building the cubesat, the CSDC has objectives to enhance space-related knowledge and capacity at Canadian universities; increase academia-industry co-operation in space-related research and development, and to expose participants to the management processes of a large engineering project.


The CSDC also has an educational outreach component, requiring teams to give numerous presentations to schools and the public. These are intended to raise awareness and understanding of space activities, as well as to inspire younger students to pursue higher education or careers in science and engineering fields.


The first CSDC began in January, 2011, and completed on September 29, 2012 (the 50th anniversary of the launch of Alouette-I, Canada’s first satellite). It was won by the team from Concordia University in Montréal. Currently, the Concordia team is waiting to hear if they will be selected to participate in the European Space Agency’s “Fly Your Satellite” programme, which could culminate in a launch for the satellite.


The second CSDC began in October, 2012, just after the completion of the first CSDC. Ten teams from across Canada are competing, and in a the team from the École Polytechnique de Montréal has partnered together with students from the University of Bologna, in Italy. We certainly hope that this international collaboration will benefit both universities, and will lead to further international participation in the CSDC.


If you have any questions, please contact the CSDC management at:



Author: Editor

Glenn is a geographer and a GIS professional with over 20 years experience in the industry. He's the co-founder of GISuser and several other technology web publications.

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