Build‑at‑home satellites, moon landings and a lunar orbiting station: Exciting times ahead in 21st century space race

- May 12, 2022

The Space Race of the 21st Century, a Dalhousie Open Dialogue Event, takes place as part of alumni days on May 26.
The Space Race of the 21st Century, a Dalhousie Open Dialogue Event, takes place as part of alumni days on May 26.

Satellites that weigh less than a bag of potatoes. Low-cost, reusable rockets. A new generation of onboard computers in space. The planned return of humans to the moon.

Put it all together, and you’ve got a new space race — one in which Canadian researchers and companies are poised to play an important role.

“You can go on the web right now and buy components to build your own CubeSat (miniature satellite),” says engineer Tony Pellerin of the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Science and Technology Branch. “You drag and drop them into a basket, pay with your credit card, and they ship it to your house. So, you can build your own spacecraft. The accessibility is there, which it wasn’t 10 years ago.”

Pellerin and fellow engineer Arad Gharagozli (MASc’22) will be panelists at Dalhousie’s next Open Dialogue Live event, The Space Race of the 21st Century. The panel takes place online and in person as part of Alumni Days on May 26 at 6:30 p.m. The event is open to all members of the Dal community as well as the general public.

There are currently some 5,000 satellites in orbit, but according to the UCS satellite database that number could rise to 100,000 by the end of the decade. The satellite explosion, says, is driven by a constellation of factors, including smaller spacecraft that can be inexpensively launched into low orbits.

Dalhousie to launch CubeSat satellite later this year

CubeSats are the smallest of these satellites, weighing in at some 3-5 kg, Pellerin says. (Compare that to the once-standard 500 kg satellites.) He is currently working with universities across the country, including Dalhousie, on 15 CubeSat projects slated to launch later this year. They are designed for a range of applications, including monitoring potato growth in P.E.I. and using lasers to calibrate ground telescopes. The Dalhousie team’s contribution is LORIS — a satellite that will extract more information from images by overlaying infrared and visible range data.

LORIS comes out of the Dalhousie Space Systems Lab, founded in 2017 by space entrepreneur Gharagozli who founded the Halifax-based firm GALAXIA. “Aerospace is a very conservative industry in its nature,” he says, “but you can see a new trend of companies coming up, and all they want to do is take risks.”

GALAXIA, Gharagozli explains, is “building satellites that are capable of processing information in space and are also capable of having other people build applications for them to be to be used in space.” Advances in technology and lower-cost missions have made the small onboard computers GALAXIA is building feasible.

A changing playing field

In the past, Gharagozli says, “If you were building a computer for a satellite, it would have been for a $2 billion mission, for example. Now, you're looking at a mission that would cost somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000, so that really changes the playing field.”

Pellerin agrees, saying advances in science and technology have “opened the door to a lot of newcomers.” Combine that with excitement about the Artemis program, which will see the return of humans to the moon, and the planned Lunar Gateway orbiting station, and you’ve got a lot of “excitement in the [space] community.”

Dalhousie’s Open Dialogue Live series brings the community together for thought-provoking conversation and supports Dal’s vital role in sparking dialogue around important issues. All Open Dialogue Live conversations are free, but registration is required for both livestream and in-person attendees. 

Register to attend: The Space Race of the 21st Century

The talk will take place May 26 in the McInnes Room in the Dalhousie Student Union Building, 6136 University Ave. The livestream will be available via Dalhousie Alumni and Friends Facebook Live and Dalhousie YouTube.

The panelists:

  • Tony Pellerin has been with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) since 1994. An electrical engineer with degrees from University of Ottawa and the Polytechnique Montréal, Pellerin is the manager for the mechanical and thermal engineering group of the CSA’s Space Science and Technology Branch, responsible for supporting CSA space missions including Canadarm3 and Gateway, which will provide support for future human missions to the Moon.
  • Arad Gharagozli (MASc’22) is an electronics engineering technologist and electrical engineer. In 2017, he founded the Dalhousie Space Systems Lab (DSS), which aims to develop electrical and mechanical systems for space applications. The DSS team included more than 200 students working on the CSA- funded project LORIS – the first satellite designed and built in Nova Scotia. In 2020, Arad launched GALAXIA, a space hardware and software company providing shared access to a series of intelligent earth observation satellites on a pay-per-use basis using the company’s MÖBIUS Constellation platform.


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