|Student Leads Construction of Nano Satellite
Managing a project team of more than 100 students to build a revolutionary satellite the size of a milk carton – that is Dario Schor’s space mission. A 27-year-old graduate student in computer engineering at the University of Manitoba, Dario is leading his university’s team in the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge. This amazing project is like running an entrepreneurial business – coming up with a novel idea, researching the possibilities, securing funding, promoting the product, building it, and managing the people and processes.
“When I was in high school, I had a great experience at the Shad Valley summer program that helped prepare me for this space challenge. Shad Valley focuses on integrating science and technology with innovation and entrepreneurship. The program taught us how technical skills need to be combined with strong teamwork and business acumen. The idea was introduced that entrepreneurship comes in many forms. It’s not just starting a business, but is also a way of thinking,” remarks Dario. “To me, entrepreneurship means pursuing opportunities and having the drive, commitment and motivation to follow through. Innovation is a means of changing or improving something or of finding an alternative solution. That’s our aim with building an accessible, small-scale satellite.”
The Design Challenge requires participants to develop a working satellite from commercial off-the-shelf components. Plus, the satellite must be able to support scientific experiments while in orbit around the earth. The competition winners’ satellite is attached to a rocket and blasted into space. For the following year, research findings are transmitted back to eager students at home. In a review by the Canadian Space Agency, Dario’s team project is currently in the top three under consideration in the contest. The team’s goal, however, is to launch the satellite regardless of whether or not they win the Challenge.
“Even though it’s small, the satellite must have the same properties and units as satellites from the Canadian Space Agency. That means finding creative ways to fit all of the necessary components into a small volume. Usually, satellites cost millions of dollars, but our budget is only $75,000,” says Dario. “For a project of this magnitude and complexity, a multi-disciplinary team of talented students is essential. As the team lead, my job is to bring together all of the pieces successfully and on time.”
The satellite is hosting two science experiments. One is the first ever biological experiment in a satellite of this size. The study is investigating the behaviour of living organisms called tardigrades under space conditions. A unique aspect is how the data is being transferred back from space in real time rather than being returned at the end of the space flight and reviewed afterwards. The second experiment studies wavelengths of the sun in comparison to other missions’ data. This type of information has never before been collected from a satellite this small.
“What’s exciting is that, if our satellite is successful, it means that research in space can be managed on a much smaller scale at much lower cost, enabling students, organizations and other scientists to access information they never could before,” explains Dario. “The idea is to make space research more accessible to students and the community at large.”