Technology

Launch day is finally close for these students and their teensy, climate-measuring satellite

Daniel Dolomont, Muneeb Azher, Victoria Vaters and C-CORE vice-president of remote sensing Desmond Power are just a few members of the big team behind the Killick-1 cube satellite. (Submitted by Memorial University)

A team of students at Memorial University is counting down to blast-off. 

The group of engineers designed and built their own satellite, with a plan to monitor climate data and sea ice in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Named the Killick-1, the cube satellite is about to be sent into space as part of SpaceX’s mission to the International Space Station. The launch date is March 3. 

“It’s going to feel amazing. To be able to have a piece of something you worked on floating around out in space, I feel like that’s every kid’s dream,” computer engineering student Jake Head told CBC News. 

The satellite is made of aluminum and is relatively small — about 10 centimetres per side and weighing about one kilogram. But inside are a lot of pieces integral to collecting data from orbit. 

“We’re really proud of this baby,” said mechanical engineering student Victoria Vaters. 

The lead-up to launch day began years ago. In 2018, students from across the country were invited to compete for the opportunity by the Canadian Space Agency. Since then, MUN professors and students as well as engineers at St. John’s-based research and development company C-CORE came together to build the Killick-1.

Engineering professor Weimin Huang said the satellite’s payload is special.

“It will use the satellite to receive the GPS signals that reflect from the Earth for the sea ice, ocean waves and other things for climate change as well,” he said. 

WATCH I  Blast off! With this tiny satellite and students from MUN:

This cube-satellite is the size of a travel mug, and is about to go on one heck of a ride

The Killick-1 cube-satellite was designed and built by students at Memorial University in St. John’s, and it’s on its way to outer space. See what this tiny tech can do, and what it means for the Canadian space industry.

But there are only a handful of universities in Canada that offer space engineering programs.

Desmond Power, C-CORE’s vice-president of remote sensing, said cube satellites are a growing industry.

“We need students, we need engineers, we need scientists who understand how to build these things,” he said. 

And to help better that understanding is André Punt, a space engineer who recently landed in St. John’s. 

Punt reached out to Power and Huang after seeing previous CBC News stories about the progress of the project. He offered to help and was accepted by the team. 

“I saw a lot of eager young faces,” he said. “I was really excited, and it’s great being able to provide insight into that world.”

In total, 15 universities are launching cube satellites on SpaceX rockets. Once they reach the International Space Station, astronauts on board use a robotic arm to push them into Earth’s orbit. The MUN team will get to watch that process happen live on video.  

The Killick-1 will orbit for one year before burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. 

“You see the people from the ground station who are cheering when their rocket gets launched? That’s going to be us sitting right here, cheering, when ours get launched,” said Vaters.  

“We put a lot of work into it so we’re super-excited that it ended up being successful.”

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