Ex Alta 1
The Experimental Albertan #1 (Ex Alta 1) satellite will provide a platform for the University of Alberta to demonstrate their newly designed digital fluxgate magnetometer in a space environment. In addition, the completion of the Ex Alta 1 satellite will not only provide valuable insight, experience, and credibility to the space engineering and scientific capabilities of the University of Alberta, but also provide the means to spread awareness of space technology and impart a unique educational opportunity for all Albertans alike.
Ex Alta 1 Primary Mission Objectives
The objectives of the Ex Alta 1 Satellite are of a space engineering, science and developmental nature.
- Serve as a platform for the In Orbit Demonstration (IOD) of a digital fluxgate magnetometer designed at the University of Alberta.
- Address multi-point space plasma physics with data from the QB50 constellation using the Langmuir probe common payloads as well as the digital fluxgate magnetometer.
Ex Alta 1 Secondary Mission Objectives
The secondary objectives of the Ex Alta 1 Satellite are of a developmental, political and educational nature.
- Promote education of space science and engineering through all levels of the educational sector of Alberta.
- Provide a foundation on which to begin a space engineering, space science and/or cube satellite program at the University of Alberta.
- Promote the development of an Albertan commercial space industry and augmentation of current staple industries with space technology.
The Ex Alta 1 Mission
The Ex Alta 1 satellite is participating in the QB50 mission – proposed by The von Karmen Institute of Fluid Dynamics (VKI) in Belgium – to provide in-situ measurements of the lower thermosphere. The Ex-Alta 1 Satellite will host the QB50 Langmuir probe payload package, which is used to measure electron temperature and density of the plasma surrounding Earth.
The digital Fluxgate Magnetometer (FGM) payload proposed for flight on the Ex Alta 1 satellite had been originally designed at the University of Alberta for space physics applications in the Van-Allen radiation belts aboard the Outer Radiation Belt Injection, Transport Acceleration and Loss Satellite (ORBITALS). The digital FGM is a novel design that allows for high frequency measurements of the Earth’s magnetosphere. The digital FGM’s size and measurement range allow small satellites to preform scientific measurements of the Earth’s magnetic fields that would normally require an induction coil magnetometer. The reduction in mass and power required for function on a cube satellite like Ex Alta 1 is attractive to the design and operation of future small satellite missions to study the Earth’s magnetosphere and possibly planets beyond our own.
Our satellite will also include an open-source on board computer, Athena, designed by our Embedded Systems Lead, Stefan Damkjar. Athena will be tested on Ex Alta 1 and if successful, will be the first part of a Open Source CubeSat platform.
The Importance of Studying Space Weather
Space weather can affect satellites in orbit, the radiation exposure of personnel in airplanes, power infrastructure, pipeline infrastructure and life on Earth in general. A good example is the Carrington Event: a event in 1859 in which a solar flare and coronal mass ejection hit Earth’s magnetosphere causing the most extreme geomagnetic storm on record. The bright aurora was observed as far south as the Caribbean, and telegraph lines were seen sparking and lighting on fire.
In March 1989 a much smaller geomagnetic storm knocked the hydro Quebec electrical grid offline for 9 hours and caused intermittent problems in the GOES weather satellite, NASA TDRS-1 communication satellites and even in the Space Shuttle Discovery. If a storm the size of a Carrington Event were to happen today, it would likely have devastating effects on our modern technological society. Satellites in high orbits could be knocked out and power grids around the world permanently damaged or destroyed.
In a recent investigation highlighted by the New York Times, US and UK science advisors estimated the cost of a severe space weather storm to be about “$2 trillion during the first year in the United States alone, with a recovery period of 4 to 10 years.” Studying space weather and the interaction of the Sun with the Earth’s magnetosphere will allow us to improve our understanding of solar storms and help minimize the global impact of potentially crippling events in humanity’s age of technology and reliance upon electricity.
Ex Alta 2
Now in its preliminary planning stages, Ex-Alta 2 is our entry in the 4th Canadian Satellite Design Challenge. Ex-Alta 2 plans to place more emphasis on the open source trends we developed over the course of the Ex-Alta 1 mission. As we work towards a more open sourced cube satellite, we hope to diversify the community while facilitating accessibility for students at all education levels. In addition to our open source platform, we will also fly in house developed technologies and experiments as scientific payloads. With the 20 month timeline put forth by the design challenge coordinators and the ambitious goals set by our team, Ex-Alta 2 will be a true test of our capabilities.