By Luke Wiebe,  Hans Jarales, Kashish Aggarwal, and Isaac Chellakudam

On February 25, 2021, AlbertaSat had its Critical Design Review (CDR) for the Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP). The purpose of the CDR is to present a detailed design of every subsystem to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), verifying that the design meets all specified requirements and is ready for manufacturing. The presentation was wide in scope, covering all three CubeSat projects of the Northern Spirit Consortium: Ex-Alta 2 from the University of Alberta, YukonSat from the Yukon college, and AuroraSat from the Aurora College. The review was an all-day event, starting at 7:30 a.m. MST and ending at about 4 p.m. MST. Due to the pandemic, the team was forced to complete all CDR requirements through virtual meetings, which required a considerable amount of effort and dedication to the project. In return for their hard work, they had a successful presentation to the space agency and Nanoracks advisors.

CSA President Lisa Campbell and Director-General Marie-Claude Guérard joined the CDR to give a few words of introduction. President Campbell congratulated CCP students who contributed to the many education outreach activities to primary and secondary schools and local communities promoting STEM. She continued expressing her gratitude to the CCP teams for making the program successful, and that through this project we created a rich learning experience that helps bridge the gap between education and entering the workforce. She concluded with an exciting hint that they may be planning the next iteration of the CCP and that she is looking forward to our launch campaign.

Project leads were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the Canadian CubeSat Project and expressed their appreciation to the Canadian Space Agency for creating this opportunity. AlbertaSat’s Deputy Project Manager, Katelyn Ball, expressed that the engineering and science communities have grown immensely as a result of the CCP, but more importantly that the project impacts the entire university community through our outreach, technical abilities, and accomplishments. Project leads said that throughout the challenges of the pandemic, they received tremendous support from everyone at the CSA.

This CDR is not, however, the only step in ensuring that the design of the CubeSat works and that everything is ‘up to code.’ Not only does the AlbertaSat team bring experience from the Ex-Alta 1 project and its corresponding design reviews, but there is also a gamut of internal and external progress checks. The first of these occurred back in 2017, and is aptly named the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). In the PDR, the team showed that the major technical requirements for imaging wildfire areas were achievable. As an example, we verified that the satellite could return to reimage a location within a week. The team also presented solutions on how we planned to get a large amount of data (pictures take up lots of space) back to Earth by using an S-band transmitter, which can send data down faster than the transceiver used on Ex-Alta 1. In November 2020, the team presented a ‘pre-CDR’ review to the Canadian Space Agency. The purpose of this review was to prepare for the true CDR presentation and was used by the team to address particular areas of the design we were unsure of or viewed as critical. With all of these preparatory steps, the entire Northern Spirit team was well prepared for what was a very successful Critical Design Review.

Following the introductions to the day, the respective teams and team leads immediately got down to business, providing updates on completed and ongoing work while addressing any issues, risks, and other significant changes, much to the feedback (and praise!) of the CSA and Nanoracks professionals and advisors. While the meeting encompassed every aspect of the Northern SPIRIT Consortium missions (Ex-Alta 2, YukonSat, AuroraSat), some of the most pressing issues pertained to satellite licensing and compliance with requirements from Nanoracks, who runs the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer on the International Space Station from which our satellites will be deployed. Each subsystem presentation showcased key requirements and significant progress from manufacturing, assembly, and prototyping to testing plans and component progress. Additionally, these presentations came equipped with risk assessments, addressing how these risks should be handled and categorizing them as high or low risk based on factors such as likelihood and mission impact. With this review marking about a year before liftoff of the Northern SPIRIT satellites,  it is clear that despite the challenges of a global pandemic, the team’s purpose and spirit to succeed remains elevated, with the CDR renewing our excitement for a successful mission.