University of Saskatchewan space-design team: Taking students to new heights

By in Culture

The University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team is a group of students from different colleges who share a driving passion for innovative technology and space exploration. After a strong showing at the Canadian International Rover Challenge, the sky’s the limit for this student group.

According to Liam Gray, a fourth-year engineering-physics and mathematics student and manager of the group’s ongoing cube satellite project, it is a group that brings students a different learning experience than in the academic world.

“From a slightly more personal [perspective], I think the USST is a way for people … to teach themselves things or push themselves beyond what they would normally be able to do,” Gray said.

The USST attended the Canadian International Rover Challenge, located in Drumheller, Alta., from Aug. 10 to 13. They placed fifth out of 18 groups from all over the world and earned second place in the search-and-rescue portion of the competition.

The rover that the students designed included many resourceful features that helped them in the different challenges of the competition. Tyrel Kostyk, a third-year computer-software engineering student in charge of recruitment for the USST, says the rover has characteristics that helped the team view its surroundings with ease.

“The most fun aspect of it that’s really interesting — that we added before any other teams had the same idea — was, on top of our rover, we have a camera mast … [and] a virtual reality system,” Kostyk said. “And we actually put … the VR headset on the operators, too, … so that way they have full situational awareness,” Kostyk said.

USST members with rover.

This is just one of many achievements for the team, which has attended many globally known competitions in the past. Danno Peters, the president of the USST and a fourth-year engineering-physics and computer science student, says that the team has won the NASA space elevator challenge two years in a row.

“We competed against SpaceX and multiple other companies and universities in these challenges, and we beat SpaceX two years in a row, [winning] first place… We did lunar rover, and now we are doing Mars rover, which we have done [for] the past five years,” Peters said.

In 2015, the USST also attended the European Rover Challenge in Poland, placing first in the contest for their rover that year. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the team travelled to Utah for the University Rover Challenge. They received second place in 2014 and first place in 2015, amongst the Canadian teams in competition, and seventh place overall for both years.

This year, the group is taking a different course and is currently working on a satellite. The project became a reality when the Canadian Space Agency awarded the USST a $200,000 grant for their CubeSat project.

“They accepted one group from every province and territory in the country. Now that we have actually been accepted, … [we] will likely be working and collaborating with various different universities from all around Canada, and potentially, outside of Canada. It’s a slightly different kind of project,” Gray said.

The CubeSat will be spending a year orbiting the planet, obtaining data about the space environment and materials like plastics, ceramics, fabrics and more. Peters says that the satellite will be launched in 2021 from the International Space Station.

“It will be the first object our team has sent into space — it’s a really exciting moment for us.”

J. C. Balicanta Narag / Outreach Director

Photo: Leks Ulan-Hohol