Icarus and the CubeSat Challenge on HeroX

By Corbin Cooper

AlbertaSat is always seeking new opportunities for innovation… and fundraising! In October and November this year, a unique prospect presented itself for the team through HeroX, a platform that promotes innovation and provides funds for the best innovators. This CubeSat Challenge was an opportunity for Icarus to shine. But what are these things, Icarus and HeroX, and what do they mean to AlbertaSat?

First, Icarus. This is the in-house design of a cubesat structure that AlbertaSat plans to use for its second satellite mission, Ex-Alta 2. It has been developed, prototyped, and tested over the past year and a half by two University of Alberta mechanical engineering capstone groups. The AlbertaSat mechanical team will continue to test and improve its design in the coming months. Overall, the design process has been a great experience for those who have been involved. Many students have gained hands-on training for manufacturing the structure. There are a number of standards to adhere to, as is the case with a space application, yet there is still room for AlbertaSat to be creative to meet the mission requirements for Ex-Alta 2. Not only does an in-house design save the team on hardware costs, but it contributes to the open-source cubesat platform that the team wants to build upon. Its name, Icarus, comes from the Greek myth of the boy who flew too close to the Sun; in a sense, cubesats do the same thing, eventually succumbing to atmospheric friction and burning in the process of re-entry.

Now for HeroX. This site offers a space for innovators (like the students volunteers in AlbertaSat) to connect with groups seeking innovative ideas and products. One such group is the United States Special Operations Command, or USSOCOM. Collaborating with NASA Tournament Lab, USSOCOM hosted the CubeSat Challenge. They were seeking conceptual level designs for products that have potential to benefit them in future satellite missions, particularly with cubesats. Although the challenge opened in mid-August, AlbertaSat learned about it in early October. This was about one week before the October 18 deadline for submissions!

The race was on. Casia McLeod and Abby Lacson, members of the AlbertaSat mechanical team, thought that the Icarus cubesat structure was perfect for an application. Though much of the design needs to be refined, it is mature enough to prove its value to the USSOCOM—qualities that a good conceptual design should have. It is inexpensive to manufacture, simple to adapt for any given mission, and offers more internal volume than other commercial options. Casia and Abby, along with external advisor Corbin Cooper (an AlbertaSat alumnus), submitted Icarus into the USSOCOM CubeSat Challenge after five days of compiling info for the application.

Up for grabs in this competition is $35000 USD divided into seven $5000 awards. Six of these are for innovators selected by a panel of judges. The application will be judged based on four criteria: if it advances the state of cubesat technology, if it helps Special Operations Forces missions, its novelty/innovativeness, and its feasibility. The winners will be announced at 10am MST on December 13, 2017, so AlbertaSat is hoping to receive an early present this holiday season!

The other $5000 award is for the team that received the most votes during a public voting period. Starting on November 2, the AlbertaSat team spent two weeks enthusiastically promoting Icarus and the CubeSat Challenge application. The amount of support that the team got was tremendous. Friends, family, and other various networks of AlbertaSat students, faculty advisors, and alumni came together to give the team a real shot at winning the public vote prize. At the end of the voting window, the AlbertaSat team finished in second place with 492 votes. The team in first place amassed more than 600! All in all, AlbertaSat wishes to extend a big thank you to everyone who supported us with votes and spreading the word. Keep on looking up.

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