Researchers Develop Smaller, Faster, Cheaper Nanosatellite Technology

Researchers with the University of Alberta’s AlbertaSat team have developed a miniature fluxgate magnetometer. This magnetometer has been developed to go atop the Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat which is set for launch in the spring 2017. The miniature, low-cost instrument will take world-class measurements of the near-Earth magnetic field which influences space weather, demonstrating the potential of nanosatellite technology to significantly reduce barriers to entry and democratize the space race.

Designed and built by faculty and students with the University of Alberta Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering, the modern, low-cost, and miniature instrument will facilitate cutting-edge space research conducted from its place on-board cube satellites.

Historically, space research has used one, or at most a handful, of large, expensive spacecraft to explore near-Earth space and our solar system. While this has provided stunning insight into our planet and our solar system, it necessarily gives a limited and incomplete picture. Nanosatellite technology, such as the fluxgate magnetometer, ushers in the next generation of space research which in future can open the door to swarms of miniaturised spacecraft encircling the Earth. Imagine trying to understand and predict the path hurricanes with only a few weather stations dotted around the world. That’s the current challenge for accurate space weather forecasting in the vastness of space around the Earth. However, miniaturised technology would enable swarms of perhaps hundreds of spacecraft or more to pin-point the potentially destructive paths of space storms.

According to researchers - Once they have a flight-proven instrument, there are several international collaborators interested in flying this instrument for their own research. Tens or even hundreds of spacecraft can provide a dynamic, three-dimensional, and high-resolution picture of the space we inhabit, thereby improving the understanding of such threating space weather storms.

Researchers at the University of Alberta have opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in this new space race using hands-on space research involving modelling, data analysis, meteorites, high-altitude balloons, sub-orbital rockets, and CubeSat missions. This research was conducted with the support of the Canadian Space Agency. Click here to read whole paper.