B.C. university to launch mini-satellite, study dark energy

University of Victoria engineering students to work with B.C. designed CubeSat, only 10cm by 10cm

With a laser pen and a model sphere about the size of a baseball, Bryce Edwards demonstrated how the 10-centimetre wide mini-satellite will diffuse light and allow astronomers a chance to better understand the origins and future of the universe.

Called the CubeSat, this little satellite can help astronomers explore the origins of the universe, Edwards said.

Despite being so small, the CubeSat could minimize the problem dark energy presents while also minimizing uncertainties in astronomical measurements by a factor of up to 10. Once in orbit, a laser light emitted from the satellite will act as a kind of artificial star to better calibrate ground-based optical telescopes.

“We still don’t know a lot about dark energy and this can help us begin to measure that,” said UVic astronomy student Ruth Digby, who helped explain the benefits of the CubeSat on Friday.

It measures 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm and packs a lot of technology in a small space, says the student project lead with the UVic Satellite Design Team that presented the project in UVic’s observatory dome in the Bob Wright Centre on Friday.

The CubeSat’s main function is to measure light. It is set to launch in 2020 from the International Space Station and will have a lot of implications for astronomy, and can be used by observatories all over the world.

“If you take a picture of a satellite from the ground, and one from the sky, then we can then compare them and see how much light loss we get,” Edwards said.

The CubeSat will orbit the world in about 90 minutes, at roughly seven kilometres per second, for about two years. At that time the minor amount of atmosphere on the Earth’s outer limits will have created enough friction to draw the wee satellite back into the atmosphere, at which point it will burn up upon re-entry.

CubeSat came to be through a new national post-secondary student space initiative today called the Canadian CubeSat Project.

The team features more than 20 engineering students from UVic who are collaborting with UBC and SFU, as the ORCAASat team (the Optical and Radio Calibration for Atmospheric Attenuation Satellite) is about 50 people in total from various disciplines.


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