Open Cockpit Day Recognizes U of A Student Achievements in Space

AlbertaSat students Casia McLeod and Erik Halliwell test a prototype imaging unit that will be used in Ex-Alta 2.

Casia McLeod and Erik Halliwell are like many young people who dream of space. But the two University of Alberta students have taken it to a whole new level.

They are part of AlbertaSat, a team of about 60 of students and 10 faculty advisors who are designing, testing and building satellites for space.

“It’s pretty neat that students can come together and do something that not a lot of others would ever have the opportunity to do,” says McLeod, an engineering student who is the mechanical team lead for the project.

Halliwell, a systems engineer for AlbertaSat, got interested in the project during a university summer camp when he was still in high school.

“It was really cool, and I thought when I get to university I have to join this.”

The project began almost 10 years ago after a nationwide call by the Canadian Space Agency to get university students involved. The team launched it’s first shoebox-sized satellite called Ex-Alta 1 from Cape Canaveral in 2017. It operated for 20 months taking readings from the lower ionosphere.

Ex-Alta 2, which is set to launch in 2021, has a mission that strikes much closer to home. It will help scientists monitor the condition of forests to better predict wildfire risk.

Project advisor Corbin Cooper shows a model of Ex-Alta 1 that will be part of the new AlbertaSat display at the museum.

“Several members on the team had to relocate to Edmonton because of the Fort Mac fire,” says Halliwell. “So it’s a personal struggle for some people on the project. It means a lot.”

The museum has built a new permanent exhibit recognizing the work of AlbertaSat. It will open on September 14, as part of Open Cockpit Day 2019, the museum’s largest annual public event.

Students from the team will also be on hand to talk to visitors about their work and help encourage young people to pursue science and technology as a career.

Corbin Cooper, the former deputy project manager and now an external advisor to the project, says telling the story of space exploration is a natural progression for the Aviation Museum.

“At the museum we see the chronology from the birth of flight and how it was introduced into Alberta. And now this is the the next logical step, recognizing students from the university with dedicated faculty making space projects happen.”

Open cockpit day runs from 10am to 4pm on Saturday September 14. More information can be found here. More details on the AlbertaSat program can be found here.