Every June, the European Space Agency (ESA) hosts a international competition where high school students test data-collecting probes that they have built against other teams. In June of 2019, a group of St. Thomas More Collegiate students made history as the first Canadian team to take part in the competition. Competing under the name STM-CanadaSat, they travelled to Bologna, Italy from June 23-29 to represent Canada.
In this competition, teams must design and build a small probe that will fit inside a soda can (AKA CanSat). The probes are launched to an altitude of 1 km and must record temperature, pressure and other data during their descent. Part of the mission includes radio communication between the launched probe and a ground station. After launch, the data must be interpreted and a formal presentation given. Every team in the competition must chose a secondary mission of scientific interest. The 2019 STM team decided to take optical and infrared photos during descent to create a topographical (i.e 3D) map in hopes of establishing a way to rapidly map terrain.
The team members are (L-R):
Victor Chen (class of 2020)
Ryan Rizzo (2019)
Mike Wang (2020)
Ethan Rajkumar (2019)
Philip Stachura (2019)
The entire probe and recovery system was designed by our group of students. They designed the software that allowed the probe to take measurements and transmit them to the ground station, along with the physical construction of the CanSat.
The team travelled to Bologna, Italy on June 23rd, 2019 and the opening ceremonies took place on the evening of June 24th. The ESA Education team welcomed the 20 countries participating in the competition, and the teams had the opportunity to introduce themselves.
Our team was fortunate to be able to spread the Canadian spirit thanks to items donated by the Canadian Space Agency, MP Peter Julian and MLA Raj Chouhan.
On Tuesday, June 25th, the team completed the technical inspection of their satellite. The electronics and dimensions of the CanSat were approved, getting the team halfway to launch approval. They also had the competition judges visit their table to ask questions about the design of the CanSat and the students had to justify their building decisions.
The team explains their mission and design to the members of the jury
The other test done that day was to see if the CanSat’s parachute allowed for an appropriate descent rate. On the first test, it was deemed that our parachute was too slow for the competition requirements. The team built a new smaller parachute at their table that then passed inspection. Team STM-CanadaSat was approved for launch!
Mike & Victor hard at work on a new parachute
June 26th was the official launch day of the competition, held at a dedicated rocket range outside of the town. After some final preparations, the CanSat was loaded into the rocket that morning and launched to an altitude of close to 1000 metres.
The CanSat getting loaded into the rocket
The CanSat was successfully released from the rocket and the parachute was effective at slowing the descent, which the team deemed important for taking high quality images needed for creating a 3D map. This slow descent speed meant that the CanSat would drift far from the launch site. This wouldn’t have been a problem except the conditions on the ground were not forgiving to those searching for CanSats.
Our CanSat ended up somewhere here
The area surrounding the launch site was covered with wheat fields that had been scheduled for harvest the week before the launch. However, there was unseasonal rain that week, and the fields went unharvested. That meant our team spent 20 person-hours searching wheat fields in 35+ degree heat. Unfortunately, the CanSat went unrecovered.
Despite the loss of the CanSat, the team prepared their final report for the judges, focusing on their software design; outreach efforts; the small amount of telemetry received during launch; and what they learned from experience. Their presentation was favourably received and the team answered the judges questions with clarity and confidence. While the team did not finish in the awards for the competition, they represented Canada proudly as the country’s first representatives in the ESA CanSat competition.
Throughout the competition, the team received letters of support from a wide range of Canadian companies and politicians. Minister of Sport and Science Kirsty Duncan wrote to congratulate the team, writing to congratulate the team on their oustanding achievement. They also received a letter of congratulations from Marie-Claude Guerard, the director general of the Canadian Space Agency.
Their efforts were also covered by local and national media. In the days before travel, the team was featured by BC’s Global News.
Earlier in the year the team was profiled by SpaceQ – Canada’s leading publication on Canadian Space endeavours.
The team was grateful to receive technical and financial support from a wide range of Canadian Aerospace and Technology companies. Thank you to the following companies for their support.
Anyone interested in getting involved with future CanSat missions should contact Mr. Muise at firstname.lastname@example.org