Overview

Every year, wildfires destroy 2.5 million hectares of Canadian forest. Over the last decade, the yearly expenditures for fire protection has ranged between $500 million and $1 billion and is expected to grow by $120 million per decade.  Early detection of these fires is critical to helping emergency services respond quickly and effectively. The goal of this mission is to design, build and launch a satellite as a technology demonstrator. CuSAT-1, the current iteration of the Satellite Design Project, will orbit the Earth; once over Canada, it will adjust its attitude in order to image the landscape using an infrared camera. The onboard computer will store any thermo-anomalistic events along with location and attitude information. Once within range of the ground station, the event data will be transmitted to the ground for post processing. Eight teams representing all of the major satellite subsystems are undertaking this effort. Each team is spear headed by a lead engineer and is comprised of 4th year engineering students from multiple departments at the university.

The Background

The CuSAT Satellite Design Project is one of eleven capstone projects at Carleton University. It is the second oldest of its kind at Carleton. Having started the capstone project tradition among Canadian universities 25 years ago, Carleton University’s Faculty of Engineering and Design has a rich background in engineering projects. The department has expertise culminating from years of work in industry and in academia. The capstone project is intended to simulate a work environment in order to provide up and coming graduates with some valuable hands on experience.

The Rollout

The team is currently in the construction and implementation phase of the project and intends on beginning interface testing between subsystems by the end of the 2019 spring semester. We will be testing communication protocols between the on-board computer and other subsystems requiring data transfer. Additionally, our team will perform electrical testing to ensure the battery and electrical power system (EPS) are delivering electricity to other subsystems as expected. Another goal of the team is to procure and develop flight-capable hardware such as the custom interface board for the infrared camera, which will throttle the existing frame rate so that the on-board computer can process the image output.

The Impact

In Canada alone, an average of 20 communities and 70,000 people are affected by forest fires annually. These fires scare communities and permanently disrupt lives. Alberta’s 2011 Lesser Slave Lake fire disaster caused damages resulting in one of Canada’s largest-ever insurance claims, capping out at around $700 million. CuSAT-1 aims to provide a feasible solution to early wildfire detection in the Canadian Boreal Forest which will result in less injuries to firefighting personnel and fewer damages communities throughout Canada. Although the focus of the project is the Boreal Forest, it is important to note that due to the nature of satellites, the mission may be extended to any location on the planet that is subjected to wildfires. The team hopes that once it is demonstrated that a satellite can reliably detect forest fires in remote locations, investors and industries will dedicate more resources to wildfire prevention using small satellites.

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