UVic satellite team nominated for Dyson Award

UVic’s satellite design club ECOSat has been shortlisted as runner-up for the James Dyson Award, allowing them to compete internationally in the hopes of moving on to the final stage of the competition.

The University of Toronto’s 3D skin-tissue printer won in the Canadian finals, along with four other projects, including ECOSat. UVic’s satellite project will move on to the international stage of the award, in the hopes of winning funding as the final prize.

“We didn’t expect much out of [the competition], but it’s really nice to get the recognition from a company like Dyson,” said project manager and electrical engineer Devin Pelletier. “It adds a lot of recognition to our project, especially when we’re going to look for potential sponsors or anybody who’s interested in working on our team.”

The ECOSat satellite is a uniquely student-led project, with all parts designed from the ground up, according to Pelletier. Established in 2011, the club has allowed students to train in aerospace engineering—a program not offered at UVic.

“We always struggle with funding and recognition,” said chief engineer Justin Curran. “Lots of people on campus and around Victoria and B.C. don’t realize that we actually exist—that we’re a group of students designing and building satellites here.”

Curran and his team had to find a way to fit all the required computing equipment in the space they had available, including an on-board computer, power store, and more. The satellite itself is the size of a two-litre milk carton, “but if you think of how many iPhone 5s you can stack up, there is quite a bit of computing power in there,” he said.

ECOSat is experimenting with pyrolytic graphite, a material not previously used in satellites. “When you excite it with light, you can control how it works in a magnetic way,” Curran said. “If it works, it’ll kinda be like sailing on the ocean with wind, but you’ll be sailing through space on magnetic waves instead.” As far as the members of ECOSat know, the satellite will be the first to use magnetic force as their main source of propulsion and movement, avoiding the use of moving parts altogether.

The satellite’s communication system, called the Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio (OSCAR), will also be the first of its kind. Currently existing in large commercial vessels only, their software will be able to listen to all radio signals at once, record them, and relay them back to Earth.

ECOSat is continuing to recruit UVic students, diversifying their team by encouraging those from other disciplines to participate. When it comes to poster generation, graphic design, outreach, and even presentation preparation, Curran admits they could use the expertise of students studying in those respective fields.

“We’re not the experts on [presentation]. Other people in other departments would probably do a better job, or [it would] at least be more applicable to their long-term goals,” he said.

In the upcoming months, the team will continue to get the satellite flight-ready, hoping to launch in 2015 or 2016. “We’re basically getting our t’s crossed and our i’s dotted, and getting ready to put it into space,” Pelletier said.

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