Students designing and building a small satellite to collect big data
Engineering students at Memorial are designing and building Newfoundland and Labrador’s first Earth observation satellite, a cubesat about the size of a one-litre milk carton, known as Killick-1.
The four-year project is a collaboration between the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and C-CORE. Engineering professor Dr. Weimin Huang and C-CORE’s Desmond Power are the project leads. Dr. Huang has previously successfully applied GNSS technology for detecting oil spills on the sea surface, detecting sea ice and estimating sea-ice concentration. Mr. Power is C-CORE’s vice-president of remote sensing. He has over 25 years of experience in developing both hardware and software for satellites. Both are thrilled with the collaboration and what the project will accomplish.
“The Killick-1 project will contribute significantly to the province’s development of highly qualified personnel in space systems and Earth observation,” said Dr. Huang. “These are inter-related emerging fields of expertise in the evolving global trend of big data analytics to support business, industry and public policy decisions.”
“The ocean plays a huge role in the global climate system and hosts a broad range of human activities; therefore, good knowledge of our oceans is critical,” said Mr. Power. “Killick-1 will operate in space with a low environmental footprint, safely gathering observational data to advance understanding of our planet and mitigate risk to people and the environment.”
The project is jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments. Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation is providing $200,000 through its Leverage R&D program, while the Canadian Space Agency is providing $200,000 through its Canadian CubeSat Project, which offers Canadian post-secondary students the opportunity to create their own small satellites.
Since the project was announced in 2018, the team has worked on the conceptual design and definition of the cubesat’s mission, and moved on to the design and building phases in the fall of 2019. When the cubesat is completed in 2022, it will be launched from the International Space Station, which is something the team is very excited about.
“We have our very own slot to go into space,” said Mr. Power. “That is very cool and exciting.”
When the satellite is launched into space, it will orbit 400 kilometres above Earth and use Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) reflectometry to collect sea ice, waves and wind data. This involves receiving direct and reflected signals from GPS satellites to measure geophysical features of the ocean such as temperature, salinity and wave height.
The ocean plays a huge role in the global climate system and hosts a broad range of human activities; therefore, good knowledge of our oceans is critical. Killick-1 will operate in space with a low environmental footprint, safely gathering observational data to advance understanding of our planet and mitigate risk to people and the environment.
Currently, the Killick-1 team consists of three engineering graduate students and more than 50 undergraduate engineering students.