Ryerson model satellite prepares for liftoff

Ryerson CanSat, rocket launch

CanSats are shot into the air by these rockets and are deployed at 400 metres. (Photo courtesy Ryerson CanSat)

Solar power is reaching new heights at Ryerson this year for a group of engineers with a penchant for building made-from-scratch model satellites.

The model, also called a CanSat, will be developed by Ryerson’s CanSat team and then put to the test at an annual competition organized by the American Astronautical Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

This year, the competition rules dictate that each satellite must be entirely solar powered. It’s a new challenge for the Ryerson CanSat team.  

“One of the big challenges is that the amount of power you get from a solar panel is directly related to the area,” team co-captain Andrew Ellis said. “These things are quite small … It’s going to be a challenge getting the area we need to provide the right amount of power.”

Ryerson’s Team Tomahawk

Ryerson’s team — Team Tomahawk — has participated in the competition since 2006.

Ryerson finished in sixth place last year, but Katherine Beattie, the team’s other co-captain, said she hopes to do better this year.  

“I want to aim [for] at least top five for us,” Beattie said. “I understand it’s a team full of new people and what not, but I feel like a good chunk of our team was also a lot of new people last year and we were still able to get sixth.”

The team finished fourth in 2014 and third in 2013. They took first place in 2006; their first year in the competition.

Robert Mackenzie, Ryerson CanSat

Last year’s CanSat was battery-powered. This year it can only use solar energy. (Robert Mackenzie)

The challenge

Each team of engineers is challenged to design a model satellite that is put inside a rocket and shot in the air. Forty universities from across the United States and Canada will participate.

At 400 metres, the satellite is deployed and required to collect data and pictures while it glides to the ground. Judges score the teams on a preliminary presentation in January before the flight to ensure they meet competition requirements. They will score the satellites’ flight during competition and will score a final flight analysis presentation after the event in June.

The satellites are required to be 500 grams — 10 grams over or under and the team is eliminated. Last year’s model is about the size and shape of a toy model airplane. The team is required to design every aspect of the satellite, from the circuit board that guides the satellite to the canister that carries it.

Andrew Ellis, Ryerson CanSat, aerospace, Robert Mackenzie

Andrew Ellis is in charge of Ryerson CanSat’s electronics. (Robert Mackenzie)

Ryerson’s edge

While the requirements are strict and challenging, Ellis believes that Ryerson has an edge on the competition because of their aerospace program — a strand of engineering that not every university offers. “We have a huge advantage in terms of knowing our aerodynamics,” Ellis said.

He pointed out the wings of last year’s model as an example. “This curvature is not randomly selected. The amount of calculations that went into this exact shape, the exact length of this flap here, the exact angle of the tail, those are very in-depth calculations.”

Ryerson’s team of about 25 students had their first meeting on Monday. They will present their preliminary results at the end of January and will select eight to 10 members to travel to Stephenville, Texas for the competition in June.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that Ryerson’s team took first place in 2005. In fact, they took first place in 2006. This version has been updated.

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