Concordia in Space

Engineering professor has plans for the University’s first ever satellite program

  • Graphic Joel Prittie

Electrical and computer engineering professor Scott Gleason wants to launch Concordia’s first satellite, and he wants his students to do it themselves with little or no assistance.

Last Wednesday, Gleason held an information session to gauge interest in the project and received an overwhelming response from students, from whom Gleason will select the most qualified applicants.

As part of the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, students will pair together into teams. The winning satellites will recieve permission to pass their satellites into low Earth atmosphere— approximately 700 km above sea level.

One of the stated goals of this competition is not just to teach students satellite design, but to expose them to the
process that all satellites go through,” said Gleason. “It’s not just building something in their garage.”

CubeSats, so named because of their cube-shaped design, are miniaturized satellites that weigh exactly 1.33 kilograms and measure no more than 10 centimeters on each side.

“There’s a sort of wave of momentum now for CubeSats,” said Gleason. “You don’t have to spend millions, or hundreds of thousands, and then risk the thing not working and losing all that money. They’re higher risk, but they’re lower risk, because they’re so cheap you can make mistakes.”

The University of Toronto and York University already have satellite programs of their own. Concordia would be the first in Montreal to launch such a satellite.

“It’s nice to be able to say we’re the first Montreal school to build a CubeSat, but if somebody like École Polytechnique did it, or McGill or UQAM, or even Sherbrooke, it’d be very good for us because then we could share information with them,” said Gleason.
Once Gleason has the students paired off into teams, the real work will begin in January, with a projected development period of about two years.

One of the reasons for the long development time is the rigorous testing required to determine if the CubeSats will survive their ordeal in orbit, including the violent temperature variations and the vibrations experienced while escaping Earth’s atmosphere.

“We joke that we could actually ride them around in the Montreal buses for a few days,” said Gleason.

“I see it as both an interesting project for undergraduates and with potential research applications, because it gives you very practical data,” he continued.

Gleason said he wants to leave the kind of research that will be conducted up to the students.

One of the things he hopes students decide to do, however, is to make the experience an inclusive one.

“I’m an advocate for open source,” said Gleason. “We’re a university. We’re supposed to be furthering research in the greater community. We’re not a private company that’s worried about IP.”

The cross-disciplinary nature of the project means that it could potentially benefit students all over the school, including those studying computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. Art students might also consider getting in on the project, he said, with the potential for artistic applications of the technology still untapped. “Once I’ve kicked it off,” said Gleason, “hopefully the students will take off on their own.”

If you would like to apply to join Concordia’s satellite-designing team, contact Professor Scott Gleason at scott@encs.concordia.ca. For more information about the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, visit geocentrix.ca.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 14, published November 16, 2010.

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.