Building Satellites to Teach Engineering and Design

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge helps students develop professional skills and experience.

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge is an exciting competition encouraging university student teams to design and build a CubeSat satellite. 

Winners of the competition will have a chance to send their mini satellite into space to perform its assigned mission.

Participating students gain experience in engineering and design. They learn how to propose, manage and work on a space mission project under realistic conditions.  

Essentially, teams act like a primary contractor working for a space agency customer. CSDC plays the role of the space agency as they manage and oversee the competition.

The program requires a variety of steps that introduce students to project management in a professional capacity. Project activities include:

  • Critical Design Review processes and deliverables documents
  • Hands-on workshops for spacecraft assembly techniques and processes
  • Experience at spacecraft environmental testing facilities
  • Quality Assurance processes
  • Mission and Spacecraft Analysis using commercial software packages
  • Educational Outreach presentations at elementary and high schools

Teams from universities across Canada participate, working on a variety of satellite designs and mission objectives.

The current challenge is halfway done, running from September 2014 to May 2016.  It is the third time the CSDC challenge has run since it began in 2010.

A handful of the participating teams and projects in this round include:

  • Concordia University, developing satellite testing the mechanical properties of self-healing materials in space.
  • École Polytechnique de Montréal, building a system to image the geomorphology of Baffin Island, and study the de-orbiting system at end of mission.
  • University of British Columbia, developing systems for early forests fire detection via multiple cameras and an intelligent smoke detection identification system.
  • University of Toronto, working on a microfuids-based high-data-throughput astrobiology platform for in-space research.
  • University of Victoria, developing a hyperspectral geophysical imaging system at a smaller size and lower cost than conventional systems.
  • University of Waterloo, working to build from off-the-shelf components and monitor changes in Arctic sea ice.

Many industry companies sponsor the CSDC teams each year, often giving teams in-kind donations of equipment or software.  Most recently, the WatSat team at University of Waterloo was the recipient of a donation of engineering and design software from Siemens PLM Software, and Maya Heat Transfer Technologies, Ltd.

The grant includes Siemens’ PLM Software’s NX platform, and integrated computer aided design, manufacturing and engineering (CAD/CAM/CAE) solution, as well as Maya HTT’s simulation software.

The grant allows students to learn and work with the same technology that is used by companies around the world, spanning industries such as aerospace, automotive, machinery, shipbuilding, and high-tech electronics.  

Familiarity with these software platforms can help ensure that students are prepared for a professional career in engineering and design.

For details on the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, check out their website.