University of Calgary

University of Calgary

September 29, 2013 13:29 ET

University of Calgary-made instrument now in space

First scientific satellite payload to be led by a Canadian university

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - Sept. 30, 2013) - A new satellite that was successfully launched into its proper orbit today prominently features technology developed by the University of Calgary. The university is also responsible for gathering the incoming data, which will help researchers better understand space storms and their effects on space-based technologies.

CASSIOPE, the CAscade SmallSat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer led by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd (MDA) of Richmond, British Columbia, was successfully launched by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) on its Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA today at 9 a.m. PDT and communication with the satellite has been established.

The satellite carries the first scientific satellite payload led by a Canadian university.

"This is both exciting and a huge relief to see CASSIOPE launched after over nine years of preparation and development," says Greg Enno, technical manager for the project which is associated to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary. "The team has been waiting for this moment for a long time and is eager to get to dig into the data."

CASSIOPE is a multi-purpose mission to conduct space environment research and advanced telecommunications technology demonstration. The mission also represents the first deployment of Canada's Smallsat bus platform developed by Magellan Aerospace of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Scientists, led by the University of Calgary, will use the satellite to collect new data and details on space storms in the upper atmosphere and their potentially devastating impacts on radio communications, GPS navigation and other space-based technologies. Storms of solar particles and intense sub-storms of ionizing radiation can interfere with high-frequency radio communications, disrupt electrical power grids and distort Global Positioning Systems that help guide aircraft.

"By flying our instruments into the eye of the space storms so to speak, we will be able to make measurements at rather unprecedented resolution, and get a much sharper and much more in-depth picture of their effects on the upper atmosphere," explains Andrew Yau, professor of physics and astronomy, mission scientist and project leader. "The long-term goal of the research is to advance our capability to forecast space weather and mitigate its impact on daily life and on society, the way we are forecasting terrestrial weather today."

Of the eight science instruments that collectively form the scientific payload, e-POP, the University of Calgary's instruments include an ion detector, an electron detector and a fast-auroral imager for capturing images of the aurora borealis (known as the Northern Lights in the North Hemisphere).This innovative e-POP scientific payload forms a key element of the Canadian Space Agency's science program and involves contributions from 10 Canadian universities and research organizations.

Using a tracking antenna located at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO) near Priddis south of Calgary, researchers will capture data sent by the eight e-POP instruments flying overhead at more than 25,000 km/h.

The information will be sent to a data-processing centre in the Science B building on campus, and also uploaded to a University of Alberta space science data portal for Canadian and international researchers' use.

"Students both at the University of Calgary and other universities will have an excellent opportunity for hands-on experience in the spacecraft operation and data collection during the mission, as well as opportunity to participate in ground-breaking research projects," adds Yau.

CASSIOPE also carries a second payload called Cascade-CX. Developed by MDA, the payload will provide a 'proof of concept' design for a high volume store-and-forward data communications operational concept. Like a courier in the sky, Cascade's operational concept is to pick up very large digital data files and deliver them to almost any destination in the world.

The CASSIOPE Smallsat bus platform measures 1.8 metre by 1.4 metre and weighs 481 kilograms - small compared with larger commercial communications satellites. It will fly in a slightly elliptical orbit that goes back and forth, over the equator, from the north to the south Polar Regions.

"It's a small satellite, but there will be times you'll be able to see it with a telescope," especially under dark skies away from urban light pollution, Yau says.

Scientists hope to collect data from the e-POP instruments for at least two years, although most of CASSIOPE is designed to last about five years before its orbit decays and the satellite re-enters Earth's atmosphere and burns.

MDA is a global communications and information company providing operational solutions to commercial and government organizations worldwide. MDA led the Canadian industrial team that included Magellan Aerospace of Winnipeg Manitoba, COM DEV International of Cambridge, Ontario and the University of Calgary, Alberta in the development of the CASSIOPE mission. The CASSIOPE mission was developed with the support of the Canadian Space Agency and Technology Partnerships Canada.

To view the footage of the satellite launch, visit:

To meet some of the University's CASSIOPE mission team members, visit:

Media Availability

  • Andrew Yau, Project lead (On Main Campus)
    • Available on request on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (MDT)
  • Greg Enno, Technical Lead (At Rothney Astrophysical Observatory)
    • Available on request on Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 16:30 p.m. (MDT)

About the University of Calgary

The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation's most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'

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Contact Information

  • Media Contact
    Marie-Helene Thibeault
    Director, Marketing and Communications, Faculty of Science
    University of Calgary
    Cell: 403.679-8447