The Experimental Albertan #2 Satellite
As an amateur radio satellite mission, Ex-Alta 2 will engage AlbertaSat team members in the exciting world of amateur radio through the implementation of an end-to-end communications system between the satellites and an Earth station at UofA as well as remote operation capabilities to partner with other teams and outreach in the community. As part of the Northern SPIRIT mission, the satellite will provide an engaging opportunity for amateur radio operators around the world to interact with amateur radio satellites and learn about northern Canadian culture. Ex-Alta 2’s secondary objective is to demonstrate the capabilities possessed by a cube satellite platform for predicting, tracking, and assessing the after effects of wildfires. Ex-Alta 2 will also significantly drive forward the open source model being developed at the University of Alberta, taking steps towards the long-term goal of a fully open sourced cube satellite. Ex-Alta 2 is part of the Canadian CubeSat Project, an initiative from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) designed to support student interest in space and provide valuable hands-on experience in the space industry. As such, Ex-Alta 2 is part of a team of Canadian-built satellites, each with their own mission and team of contributors.
As part of the Canadian CubeSat Project, AlbertaSat is also partnering with Aurora College in the Northwest Territories and Yukon College to develop their respective cube satellites, dubbed AuroraSat and YukonSat. While our partners develop the payloads that will be flying on the satellites, AlbertaSat will be developing the 2U bus (the structure the payload flies on). Be sure to check out the awesome work they’re doing on their web page!
Credit: Canadian Space Agency
How Ex-Alta 2 Will Use and Support Amateur Radio
The primary objective is to promote an interest in STEM, space science, technology, and telecommunications, and to provide students in all three teams experience in designing and realizing space-related projects.
One of the main goals of this project is to implement an end-to-end communications system between the satellites and the AlbertaSat amateur radio ground station installed during the Ex-Alta 1 mission, in addition to remote operation capabilities permitting students at other universities to operate their satellites as well. The AlbertaSat ground station was first built to operate in the amateur radio UHF band and has been used as such for Ex-Alta 1 and remote operation of the York University DESCENT amateur satellite mission. New modifications and upgrades carried out by AlbertaSat student team members will replace the proprietary COTS UHF radio used for Ex-Alta 1 and DESCENT with a more versatile software defined radio, as well as implement amateur VHF and amateur S-band communications.
Together with AuroraSat and YukonSat, Ex-Alta 2 will use digital audio to share stories about space and sky with amateur radio operators around the world. All three satellites will also operate a game over amateur radio that will require cooperation between amateurs in different regions to piece together the full recording. Finally, the three satellites are also designed to downlink payload data via the amateur S-band frequency band. With the advancement of modern telecommunications equipment and technology, an increased interest in S-band communications has emerged within the amateur radio community, and the AlbertaSat student team is excited to get involved and learn to operate in this part of the spectrum.
How Ex-Alta 2 Will Study Wildfires
Wildfires dramatically affect not only residents of Alberta, but many communities around the globe. Canada-wide, an average of 2.5 million hectares of land are burned annually and the impact on the communities in rural areas at risk of wildfire damage is massive. Additionally, rising global temperatures mean that the number and intensity of wildfires is increasing every year.
With this in mind, AlbertaSat is developing an in-house built multispectral imager named Iris to be flown on-board Ex-Alta 2. Iris will be able to capture the forests in visible and invisible (infrared) light, providing scientists with the data to study wildfires and help protect us from their impact. Images taken of high risk zones will highlight vegetation growth which can provide clues as to when and where a wildfire will start. Many active wildfires produce huge amounts of aerosolized particles (smoke). Images of these smoke plumes can inform firefighters and scientists to where wildfires are occurring. Scorched and burnt earth as well as vegetation regrowth can be monitored over time using Iris. This is done to learn more about post fire recovery and the effects wildfires have on forest ecosystems. Ex-Alta 2 serve as a proof of concept for a constellation of cubesats that can accurately predict and monitor wildfires with the information being relayed to emergency services in a timely manner.
Our Commitment to Open-Source
In order to support initiatives like ours all around the world, AlbertaSat is commited to developing open source components in our projects. The computer that flies on-board Ex-Alta 1 and 2, called Athena, is one such product of AlbertaSat that can be shared to help fellow space-bound groups grow their projects without having to develop a computer suited for their work, increasing the likelihood that they will be successful. From there we can grow a collaborative community that drives down the cost barrier of creating a satellite. The aim is to support more groups around the world, sharing the invaluable hands-on experience that students involved in AlbertaSat have had.