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UPEI one of 15 schools to earn the chance to build and operate its own satellite

“SpudNik-1” will gather agricultural data as part of a national student initiative through the Canadian Space Agency
| University

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced today the 15 schools chosen to design, build, and operate tiny satellites known as a CubeSats. UPEI’s “SpudNik-1” will be the creation of undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Physics and the Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering.

SpudNik-1 will measure just 20 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, but will utilize an advanced imaging system for precision agriculture. The system will be able to capture precise soil and crop data (texture, topography, moisture content, weed and disease infestations, crop damage, etc.) as well as verify the effectiveness of herbicide and fungicide applications, monitor physical damage due to insects, inundation, wind and hail, and schedule an irrigation plan. The goal is to develop better monitoring systems to promote greater sustainability in agriculture.

“The main design challenge is integrating all of the required subsystems including power, attitude control, communications, image processing, and the mission payload into such as small space,” said Dr. Nicholas Krouglicof, dean of the Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering. “To reduce the development time, we’ll be applying the principles of concurrent engineering with multiple design teams developing the various CubeSat subsystems simultaneously rather than consecutively. We’ll also be applying state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques including metal 3D printing.”

SpudNik-1 will be capable of capturing images at a resolution of between two and ten meters on the ground. This technology has an advantage over drones, as a satellite can capture a greater amount of georeferenced data over a large area in a relatively short amount of time.

SpudNik-1 is a multi-year project, and will provide design projects for several senior and junior teams at the Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering, as well as optical design projects for students in Physics.

“Designing an optical system to capture two-metre resolution images of agricultural fields from a satellite the size of a toaster, 350 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, presents a significant challenge,” said Dr. Bill Whelan, chair of the Department of Physics at UPEI. “Our students will use their knowledge and understanding of physics to design, fabricate, test, and analyze lenses and other optical components, and fit everything inside the toaster.”

The opportunity to work on a real space mission from start to finish, including operating the satellites and conducting science experiments in space, gives students useful experience and skills they need when entering the job market. Students will gain science and engineering expertise from building a satellite destined for space as well as valuable expertise in project management, concurrent engineering, leadership, and communications.

A total of 15 teams composed of 36 organizations will participate in the Canadian CubeSat Project, thanks to several inter-regional, inter-provincial and international collaborations that even include universities from Europe, Australia, and the USA.

CSA experts, as well as representatives from the Canadian space industry, will guide the teams throughout the Canadian CubeSat Project, to optimize the success of each mission.

Once tested and ready for space, the 15 CubeSats, including SpudNik-1, will be launched to and deployed from the International Space Station in 2020–2021.

The University of Prince Edward Island prides itself on people, excellence, and impact and is committed to assisting students reach their full potential in both the classroom and community. With roots stemming from two founding institutions—Prince of Wales College and Saint Dunstan’s University—UPEI has a reputation for academic excellence, research innovation, and creating positive impacts locally, nationally, and internationally. UPEI is the only degree granting institution in the province and is proud to be a key contributor to the growth and prosperity of Prince Edward Island.


Dave Atkinson
Research Communications Officer
Marketing and Communication
(902) 620-5117

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