The future of wildfire monitoring

The interdisciplinary AlbertaSat team works on second satellite, looking at the future of wildfire monitoring.

Katie Willis - 04 May 2018

AlbertaSat is back in the cubesat with plans for Alberta's second satellite underway with funding announced today by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Following hot on the heels of Ex-Alta 1, the province's first-ever cube satellite launched into orbit in May 2017 to monitor space weather, the UAlberta AlbertaSat team received one of 15 grants under the Canadian CubeSat Project. The funding was announced today at the University of Manitoba by the CSA's newest astronaut, Jenni Sidey.

The team behind Ex-Alta 2 boasts 50 students and 10 faculty advisors from the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Engineering. Over the next two years, the team will build a small, cube-shaped satellite, measuring 10 cm by 10 cm by 30 cm, before launching it into orbit, where it will take over for its predecessor, circling Earth. They will build on their expertise from their successful build from the first mission.

The Ex-Alta 2 mission will see the University of Alberta team working with teams from Canada's Northwest Territories-namely Yukon College in Whitehorse, NWT, and Aurora College in Inuvik, NWT-as a way to share knowledge and resources to not only better the exploration of space for the benefit of society but also to provide learning opportunities for Canada's youth.

"We are keen to use space as a way to motivate youth from anywhere in Canada including the North to draw young people into STEM careers and to provide an opportunity to engage with an asset that the Territories themselves have been partners in building," said Ian Mann professor in the Department of Physics and faculty advisor for AlbertaSat.

The next generation of space

"The goals of this mission are to observe Alberta for areas at risk of wildfire, to monitor areas experiencing fire, and to analyze post-burn scarring on the landscape," explained Clayton Coutu, master's student in the Faculty of Science and communications team lead for Ex-Alta 2. "With Ex-Alta 2 in orbit, we'll be one step closer to being able to monitor wildfires across the province."

Ex-Alta 2 will be equipped with the same magnetic field instrument currently on Ex-Alta 1, to continue studying the space environment.

"For this mission, what we want to demonstrate is that we can provide good quality information at a mere fraction of the cost of large scale satellites," said Coutu. "Then, we want to make our designs open source because creating an open source satellite platform will help break down barriers in space exploration, allowing more people around the world to access space."

Down the road, the AlbertaSat team hopes to launch a constellation of cube satellites, increasing the quality of images by providing a larger observation area, while remaining significantly more financially reasonable than large satellites.

"AlbertaSat's involvement in the Canadian CubeSat Project is our next step in growing the aerospace community at the U of A. It ensures that students passionate about space will be able to design, build, and launch spacecraft here for years to come," added Coutu.