July 20, 2023

UCalgary students count down to success with anticipated satellite launch

CalgaryToSpace mission skyrockets interstellar curiosity across the university
CalgaryToSpace Electrical and Orbit team members

University of Calgary students are shooting for the stars with a planned satellite launch that will focus on providing them with tangible hands-on experience in space technology.

CalgaryToSpace, a student-designed and constructed nano-satellite mission, is set to launch in less than a year with the scientific objective to test two new technologies from UCalgary researchers.

  • Photo above: Electrical and Orbit team members busy learning the ins-and-outs of the GPS receiver to be flown on CTS-SAT-1. From left: Joy Wang, outreach; Aarti Chandiramani, Orbit team lead; Ebube Anachebe, electrical; Thanusha Veeraperumal, electrical; and Frank Bustamante, electrical.

“I wanted to try something big, and I noticed the university hadn’t launched a [satellite] into outer space before,” says Elian Dupre Sarmiento, BSc (Eng)’23, a recent mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate and co-founder and former president of CalgaryToSpace.

CalgaryToSpace’s mission is to energize the aerospace industry in Calgary

CalgaryToSpace’s mission is to energize the aerospace industry in Calgary.


Sarmiento says the idea of CalgaryToSpace stemmed from a desire shared with his co-founder, Liana Goodman, a software and engineering student, to break free from the constant competition cycles many university teams tend to undertake with these sorts of endeavours. He says his focus lies in providing students with valuable skills to enter the workforce and “do something incredible for Canada’s space economy.”

Sarmiento and his team intend to launch their satellite in October 2024, with room for two scientific instruments. The satellite CTS-SAT-1 has a CubeSat body chosen for its compact frame and accessibility for university- and high school-level research.

The spacecraft will contain two payloads, a Mini Plasma Imager built by Dr. Johnathan Burchill, PhD’03, a researcher for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and a deployable boom designed by Nick Elderfield, BSc (Eng)’19, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering. Burchill’s imager will gather data on Earth’s magnetic field, while the boom will test the function of ultra-lightweight structures in space. With the help of digital platform RIDE! Space, CalgaryToSpace has signed an agreement with American aerospace company to deploy its satellite in the United States.

Sarmiento says part of the mission’s objective is to ignite interest in space technology within the Calgary area by launching Calgary’s first student-built satellite carrying locally designed scientific payloads.

The CalgaryToSpace team comprises students from vastly different disciplines across UCalgary such as computer science, astrophysics, communications, and even finance and commerce. Sarmiento says a transdisciplinary approach to the project not only allows for a broader knowledge pool, but also helps to decrease stigma within the space research field.

Elian Dupre Sarmiento

Elian Dupre Sarmiento.

Nada Hassanin

“There’s this idea that you have to be a genius rocket scientist to build a satellite,” says Sarmiento. “But we found that, in building this student team and breaking down those barriers, people have come to understand how easy it is to get involved, regardless of someone’s faculty or background.”

The project also offers two $2,500 scholarships for students passionate about space and engineering.

Funding for the project comes from partnerships, donations and in-kind support such as materials and expertise, alongside support provided by UCalgary and the Schulich School of Engineering in the form mentorship, maker spaces, and funding cycles. CalgaryToSpace has also received support from software and component companies such as SkyFox Labs and Hexagon (NovAtel). Sarmiento says the program has also received a great amount of support from individual community members eager to help students get this project off the ground and into space.

While Sarmiento recently stepped down from the role of president to focus on the next steps of his career, he says running a 60-person organization has been an incredible learning experience and plans to remain involved with the project in a smaller capacity.

As the launch date nears, Sarmiento reflects on the mentorship and support the CalgaryToSpace team has received from both the university and also around the Calgary area.

“The attitude of Calgarians as we’ve been working on this project for the past three years has really enabled us to do great things,” he says. “We’re going to fail along the way, but, at the end of the day, we’re also going to learn a lot and deliver a satellite to space, too!”

Visit the CalgaryToSpace website to learn more about the launch, upcoming events, scholarships and how to contribute to the project.

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