“Most students with AlbertaSat are people who in high school, or maybe even earlier, dreamt that one day they might possibly be able to work on a space mission. And then they came to the University of Alberta and saw that you can put yourself ten or fifteen years ahead of schedule, and start working on a space mission right now.”
Callie Lissinna, mechanical engineering co-op student and AlbertaSat project manager
AlbertaSat is a student group at the University of Alberta committed to advancing space science and engineering in Western Canada. The diverse team includes over 50 students from the Faculty of Science, but also the Faculties of Engineering, Education, Arts, Agricultural Life and Environmental Sciences, and the School of Business. Together, the AlbertaSat team designed, built, and launched the first made-in-Alberta satellite, Ex-Alta 1.
Getting a new mission off the ground
After the successful launch and deployment of Ex-Alta 1 from the International Space Station in May of 2017, the satellite has diligently measured space weather patterns. Meanwhile, the team has had plenty to do on the ground; monitoring, controlling, and receiving data from Ex-Alta 1 at mission control, which operates out of the Student Innovation Centre.
Now, the team is hard at work on the development of their second satellite, Ex-Alta 2, and announced in May 2018 the project will receive support via funding from the Canadian Space Agency.
Ex-Alta 2 will be a wildfire detection and monitoring satellite, and will carry a camera-like instrument called a multispectral imager to take photos of the Earth and, more specifically, the forests of Alberta. The satellite will provide wildfire scientists and first responders with valuable data and help to predict where fires are likely to start, monitor currently burning fires, and monitor recovery of wildfire burn scars once fires are put out.
The AlbertaSat team selected this mission following the Slave Lake and Fort McMurray wildfires, as some team members’ friends and families were affected by the disasters. The team also wanted to give back to Alberta after receiving so much support from across the province for the Ex-Alta 1. With their community in mind, AlbertaSat decided to see what they could do with the Ex-Alta 2 to prevent or mitigate future disasters using space technology.
Giving back to the community
AlbertaSat has been recognized for their work in community engagement and outreach by winning the University of Alberta Community Connections award for Community Leaders. The team is committed to building awareness about the growing space industry in western Canada through their work with elementary and junior high schools in Edmonton and the Faculty of Science summer camps.
AlbertaSat is also leading by example to improve diversity in STEM fields. They’ve been intentional about avoiding the trend of equally qualified female engineers being placed in administrative or outreach positions within their own team. Outside of AlbertaSat, the team works to build awareness of imbalances in gender representation in some STEM fields, and encourages industry leaders and other student groups to evaluate their own organizations to avoid unconsciously contributing to the problem. As efforts within their own organization have shown, AlbertaSat encourages industry leaders and other student groups that self-reflection and a few easy steps can make a big change.