Dalhousie University students extend their studies to space

In one small step for Nova Scotian science, students at Dalhousie University are getting ready to launch the first Atlantic Canadian-built satellite into space.

The tiny nanosatellite, called LORIS (Low Orbit Reconnaissance and Imagery Satellite), will fly to orbit sometime between August and October as part of a suite of Canadian Space Agency satellite missions for students called the Canadian CubeSat Project.

Dalhousie University's LORIS spacecraft is slated to head into space later this summer or fall. | SkyNews
Dalhousie University’s LORIS spacecraft is slated to head into space later this summer or fall. (Nick Pearce/Dalhousie University)

It was Dalhousie’s first-ever effort among a field crowded by more experienced universities, but it comes at a crucial moment for the province: Maritime Launch Industries is readying a spaceport to bring missions from Nova Scotia to space.

So it’s very possible that the students working at Dalhousie today will form the first generation of Nova Scotian space industry professionals working in-province to serve the fast-growing space market.

Even the mission screams Nova Scotia — its goal is to look at the province’s peninsula and surrounding waters to get a high-definition view of the shorelines and ocean life.

“One of the most important aspects of this has been the years of work, for all the students who have been involved in the project,” said Arad Gharagozli, founder of Dalhousie’s Space Systems Lab and lead of the LORIS project. Around 250 students were involved with LORIS over several years, meaning the little satellite had a big impact that will continue to ripple through space projects for decades.

Arad Gharagozli, founder of Dalhousie's Space Systems Lab, shown left with members of the LORIS satellite team in Montreal. | SkyNews
Arad Gharagozli, founder of Dalhousie’s Space Systems Lab, shown left with members of the LORIS satellite team in Montreal. (Provided photo/Dalhousie University)

“[There were] all of the amazing, invaluable lessons that everyone learned from Day 1 — planning, to project management, to mission concept reviews, all the way to doing critical design reviews,” Gharagozli added. “They also did background research about all the space engineering and science that goes into putting a spacecraft in orbit and operating it.”

Most were engineering students, but a handful came from other disciplines, showing how space is a cross-discipline field. They also worked with new engineering instruments designed by Galaxia Space Missions, a space technology company that Gharagozli created in 2020 based on his own Dalhousie research.

Like many space projects, this satellite effort was not without obstacles. Completion was at first targeted for 2020, but the pandemic obstructed those efforts by a year and a half. Ongoing supply chain problems, chip shortages and other issues resulted in the CSA authorizing its participants in the challenge to postpone until things got a bit better.

Now that the immediate problem has eased, the satellite is in final “integration” testing at CSA headquarters near Montreal to make sure it is readied for the NanoRacks launcher system that will send it from the International Space Station. To get to the orbiting complex, LORIS will ride atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later in the fall.

Small package, fast speeds. | SkyNews
Small package, fast speeds. (Nick Pearce/Dalhousie University)

Gharagozli said more projects will be in the works at Dalhousie and that he hopes a future one will focus on astronomy research, as there wasn’t the resources to take on that space field with this launch. The university even has cameras ready; now they’re looking for another ride, and an opportunity to work with companies that want to test products in space, he said.

This biweekly column by Canadian science and space journalist Elizabeth Howell focuses on a trending news topic in Canadian astronomy and space.

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