CSDC Teams Complete Design Reviews and Radiation Testing

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CSDC Teams Complete Design Reviews and Radiation Testing Workshop in Vancouver

 University of Alberta receives top marks, but several teams are close behind.

November 29, 2017.

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC) - the Canada-wide competition for university teams to design and build "CubeSat" satellites - recently held the Critical Design Reviews for participating teams, as well as a workshop to test their satellite electronics in a simulated space radiation environment.
The Critical Design Review (CDR) presentations were hosted at the head office of UrtheCast, in Vancouver. Eleven of the fourteen participating teams gave 2.5-hour comprehensive presentations on the designs of their satellites and missions. The presentations encompassed technical details of the satellite sub-systems (power, attitude determination and control, communications, structure), the plans for how each team is managing their project (schedules, budgets, and risks), and a summary of the educational outreach activities they have done.
The presentations were judged by a panel of experts from Canadian and U.S. space companies, and the Canadian Space Agency, and the CSDC Management Society (which organises the CSDC competition) is extremely grateful to the judges' employers for allowing them to
  • Maarten Meerman, from Space Systems Loral (SSL - part of the newly-formed Maxar Corporation) in San Jose, California. Maarten has been a judge or workshop mentor in every previous CSDC offering.
  • Adam Latour, from Kepler Communications in Toronto. Adam has also been a judge in a previous CSDC offering.
  • Eric Gloutnay, from the Canadian Space Agency. Eric is also a radiation effects expert, and assisted the teams in the radiation testing workshop.
  • Stefanos Derminakis, from UrtheCast in Vancouver, who was a member of the Concordia University team which won the first CSDC in 2012. This makes him the first CSDC alumnus to participate as a judge.
  • Larry Reeves, also from UrtheCast, who is the CSDC Manager. 
The team from the University of Alberta (in Edmonton) gained top marks for their mission to detect areas where wildfires are more likely to start, inspired by the devastating fires which affected the Fort McMurray region in 2016. The University of Alberta launched their first CubeSat in April of this year, as part of the European Space Agency's "QB50" mission. With the experience that many of the current UofA team members have gained from designing, building, and operating their QB50 cubesat, their strong peformance was certainly no surprise.
Concordia University (in Montreal) earned second spot with their mission to conduct an experiment with a self-healing structure in orbit, and they were closely followed by five more teams: the University of Toronto, York University, Simon Fraser University, Queen's University, and the University of Manitoba. Most of these teams have participated in previous CSDC offerings, and have done an excellent job of passing on their knowledge and experience to incoming team members; however, the Simon Fraser and Queen's teams were newly formed, so did not have past participation and experience to draw from.

Teams from (l-r) the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, and York University, at the Critical Design Reviews.

Radiation Testing Workshop at TRIUMF
During the same week as the CDR's, the teams also participated in a radiation testing workshop at the Tri-University Meson Facility, better known as TRIUMF, at the University of British Columbia. TRIUMF has the world's largest cyclotron, which can be used to simulate the radiation environment in space, and test the robustness of electronics hardward, as well as the software which is required to detect and recover from the degrading effects. TRIUMF has been used by many space companies to test hardware - two researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) were unpacking and preparing some hardare for testing the day after the CSDC did their testing.

Radiation in space can have two effects on electronics:
  • it can degrade the circuits over time. For example, solar cells will slowly lose their ability to produce as much electrical power.
  • it can cause "bit-flip" upsets, changing a 0 to a 1 or vice-versa. This is an effect which usually cannot be easily or efficiently avoided, so the satellite needs to be able to detect such errors and recover from them.
Many thanks to Mike Trinczek and Ewart Blackmore from TRIUMF, and Eric Gloutnay from CSA, who guided the teams through their experiments late on a Thursday and Friday night, and on a Sunday afternoon.

Clockwise from top-left: University of Waterloo, Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, and University of Victoria.

The CSDC teams will now proceed to the build and test phase of their CubeSats - hopefully incorporating the judges' CDR suggestions. Once assembled and ready, the cubesats will undergo a test next Spring which simulates the vibration that the CubeSats will experience during launch.

Thank you for following us, and we hope you will continue to follow the CSDC as it progresses.

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