Dunlap Institute celebrates 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon landing

SpaceTime event featured talks, games to commemorate first spaceflight to land humans on the Moon

Dunlap Institute celebrates 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon landing

On Saturday, July 20, U of T’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing with a SpaceTime event at the Daniels Spectrum.

The public event took place precisely 50 years to the day that astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to take “one small step” onto the lunar surface at the climax of the Apollo 11 mission. Accordingly, the event focused on milestones in crewed space exploration, particularly surrounding the moons of our solar system.

The key attractions were three talks presented by experts in the space industry and academia. Interspersed between the talks were shorter anecdotes on spaceflight, chosen to augment the main features. Audience members were also able to participate through show-style games involving trivia and artwork.

The evening’s first speaker was William Maxwell King, a Master of Applied Science candidate at the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies.

King’s presentation was titled “Spaceflight: A Human History,” and took the audience on a journey from the first rockets to the first Moon landing. Beginning with the origins of modern rocketry in the aftermath of World War II, the accompanying slideshow featured photographs of early rockets such as the United States’ Bumper 2, which was based on the German V-2 rocket. Similar pictures showed early Soviet successes in space before the triumph of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Apollo program.

King selected a historical angle for his talk to showcase the incredible progress that human ingenuity made over a very short span of time.

“I think the lesson that I see in the Apollo legacy is that there is no challenge too great to tackle,” wrote King in an email to The Varsity. “Especially as our world faces catastrophic issues such as climate change, the Apollo program shows that we can indeed construct technological solutions to seemingly impossible problems.”

The second talk was thematically closer to the present day, as Dr. Jamil Shariff, an engineer at MDA Corporation, an aerospace company, presented the opportunities that the Moon will allow humanity in the near future.

In his talk titled “The Moon: A Gateway to the Future,” Shariff went into detail on the Lunar Gateway Project, an international collaboration to build a permanent space station in the moon’s orbit. Shariff particularly highlighted Deep Space Exploration Robotics (DSXR), which is Canada’s planned contribution to the endeavour. 

The Canadian Space Agency and MDA Corporation have developed concepts for a new pair of robotic arms — the large eXploration Large Arm (XLA), and small eXploration Dextrous Arm (XDA) — for use on the Lunar Gateway. The arms will be analogous follow-ups to the large Canadarm2 and small Dextre arms that currently service the International Space Station.

“The relatively careful, stepwise approach that NASA/ESA/CSA/Roscosmos are taking with the Lunar Gateway is to use ‘cislunar space’ (the space between the Earth and the Moon) as a proving ground,” wrote Shariff in an email to The Varsity.

“In this environment, the effects of long term habitation in space and increased radiation exposure can be studied and mitigated. Experience can be gained operating in a self-sustaining manner with no resupply from, and limited communication with, Earth.”

Information gained from studies along this vein could be applied to hypothetical missions such as crewed deep space explorations and Martian missions.

Closing the evening was Dr. Michael Reid, an Associate Professor and the Coordinator of Public Outreach and Education at the Dunlap Institute. Unlike the previous two speakers, Reid was less focused on the Moon, as a definite and singular, in favour of moons, as indefinite and plural concepts.

Reid’s talk, titled “To the Moons,” advocated for increased interest in the many natural satellites of our solar system, which number in the hundreds, instead of continued fixation on our eight neighbouring planets. Reid used slideshows of photographs to argue that exploration of nearby moons would provide a broader understanding of the possibilities that alien worlds hold. 

Saturn’s moon Titan was in particular focus during the presentation, given its thick atmosphere and liquid oceans of water and hydrocarbons. Combined with an atmospheric pressure and low gravity that is favourable to humans, Reid cited it as an example of a nearby celestial body which could prove agreeable to colonization.

“What I was trying to do was encourage people to think about places in the solar system we could go beyond planets,” said Reid in an interview with The Varsity. “Titan is one really good example, particularly if you’re thinking about human colonization or travel. But it’s only one, right? There are other places you could go depending on your motives. In general… the places in the solar system that might [possibly] be compatible with life are probably actually not planets.”

Despite the astronomical subject matter of the talks, the Dunlap Institute made it clear in advance and during the event that people of all educational backgrounds, including children, were welcome.

“I think the easiest way for laypeople to get involved with space exploration is to come to events like this,” wrote Master of Ceremonies Dr. Mubdi Rahman, a Project Scientist in the Dunlap Institute, in an email to The Varsity.

“[These events are opportunities] to actually chat with people actively working in the field, and there are often surprising collaborations that come out of these meetings.”

From one world to another with the press of a button

The Habitat podcast considers the good, the bad, and the boring of a life on Mars

From one world to another with the press of a button

The Habitat is the perfect podcast to listen to on your morning commute. It’s the best background sound when you want to sleepily close your eyes, press play, and escape to a different planet — literally.

Released in April 2018 by podcast-behemoth Gimlet Media, The Habitat is about life on Mars – or rather, what life would be like on Mars. Listeners are taken behind the scenes of a NASA simulation, where six volunteers agree to give up a year of their life in the spirit of scientific experimentation.

In practice, this means that six adults — three women and three men — are physically and socially isolated in a dome the size of a tennis court on a far-off Hawaiian mountain for 365 days. The Habitat documents the participants’ experiences in confinement – the good, the bad, and the mundane.   

The podcast is soothingly simple. Listeners overhear the team’s monotonous lives, often with background noise, long pauses, or dull conversations. The host, Lynn Levy, is your friendly guide into the experience as she navigates the daily lives of those in the dome with us.

The six individuals speak to Levy, documenting their days, sharing information about their families back home, and reflecting on their feelings about others inside the dome. As the individuals discuss their lives, Levy slyly inserts background history on space travel in a charmingly nerdy way. In one episode, the possibility of romance and sex within the dome is explored. Levy then provides listeners with historical context, explaining how NASA doesn’t explicitly ban space sex but does try its best to prevent coupling of participants seeing that it may complicate missions.

The episodes touch on routine, friendship, homesickness, and extreme annoyances, showcasing how the experiment isn’t truly about the scientific possibilities of reaching Mars, but rather, how human emotion may place the entire operation in jeopardy.

A rich finish to each chapter, every episode ends with a variation of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

When listening, you’ll feel as though you’re inside this weird, wacky, and deeply challenging experiment. It’s an out-of-this-world experience.  

Disclosure: Kaitlyn Simpson previously served as Volume 139 Managing Online Editor of The Varsity, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Varsity Publications Inc.

Editor’s Note (September 28, 12:13 pm): This article has been updated to reflect the author’s former and current affiliations with The Varsity.

Pelted with rocks from outer space

Are we in danger of suffering the same fate as the dinosaurs?

Pelted with rocks from outer space

On December 18, a meteor with an estimated diameter of 10 metres, travelling at approximately 32 kilometres per second, exploded over the Bering Sea. The meteor exploded with 10 times the strength of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 — equivalent to the energy of 173 kilotons of TNT.

The explosion went relatively unnoticed and was not reported on by scientific and general media until early March. It was recorded by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization at the time, but the organization did not report on it or attempt to study it further, as it was not a nuclear threat.

The event recently surfaced in the media only after Dr. Peter Brown, a professor at Western University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, observed the explosion in the organization’s database.

NASA then added the event to its Fireballs database, which compiles the details of such events, including their location, size, and impact energy.

The incident has led to discussion surrounding the potential threat of meteors. Their seemingly unpredictable nature makes it difficult to track them and prepare for impact if and when they occur.

The Bering Sea explosion went unnoticed because the meteor arrived at a more northerly angle than most observed events, where fewer telescopes are focused. The relative proximity to a populated area — the meteor impacted just 300 kilometres off the coast Kamchatka, Russia, a peninsula housing over 300,000 people — suggests that future meteors could pose a danger if effective monitoring is not in place.

Are we in danger?

Every day, between 80 and 100 tons of dust and small meteorites fall from space, yet the impact of larger objects is a far rarer occurrence.

A January study by Dr. Sara Mazrouei, who completed her PhD in Planetary Geology at U of T last year, and Dr. Rebecca Ghent, Associate Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, suggests that large asteroids are colliding with Earth more frequently than before, and this change in frequency began around 290 million years ago. 

While ‘asteroid’ typically refers to any celestial body composed of rock and metal which orbits the sun, the U of T study focused on rocks capable of creating craters greater than 20 kilometres in diameter.

The researchers found that the rate of collisions has more than doubled over the past 290 million years compared to the ones recorded 300–650 million years ago. However, this does not mean that collisions occur often. On average, these very large asteroids only hit Earth every few million years.

So what is out there?

Around 90 per cent of objects in our solar system that are 140 metres wide or larger have been found through NASA’s Near-Earth Objects (NEO) Observations Program.

Through this program, NASA maintains a list of large NEOs that could pose a risk to Earth, determined by factors such as the size, shape, orbit trajectory, mass, and rotational dynamics.

This list, and other planetary defence studies, are used to plan for collisions. Hypothetical efforts would focus on mitigating the effects of unpreventable impacts and implementing measures that can deflect or disrupt other NEOs.

NASA’s current stance is that there are no major threats of a crash.

Looking ahead

In 2017, NASA’s Science Definition Team reaffirmed that objects that are 140 metres in diameter or smaller would only result in regional effects on impact. Large NEOs could have sub-global effects if they are 300 metres in diameter or larger, and global effects if they are one kilometre in diameter or larger.

As of 2019, over 19,000 NEOs have been discovered, compared to 10,000 in August 2013. Over 1,500 NEOs have been discovered each year since 2015, raising the possibility that objects that could pose a threat may be discovered in the future.

Although roughly two-thirds of large NEOs are estimated to be undiscovered, NEO detection continues to improve as technology advances.

New planetarium in the works at UTSG

The world-class facility will provide unparalleled access to the cosmos

New planetarium in the works at UTSG

The Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is planning to replace the current Astronomy & Astrophysics Building with a new structure that includes a planetarium, which could become a tourist and cultural centrepiece in Toronto. 

The proposed construction is at 50 St. George Street, where the facility is currently located. 

According to Raymond Carlberg, Chair of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, the new planetarium will seat around 150 people, six times more than the 25-person capacity of the department’s current planetarium. Blueprints for the planetarium could be finalized as early as 2020.

The planetarium attracts students and the general public for its shows like the Grand Tour of the Cosmos and The Life and Death of Stars, which are usually led by U of T graduate students. 

However, the current theatre has limitations. 

It is not wheelchair-accessible, and requires patrons to plan early to avoid the dreaded ‘bad seats,’ where catching a glimpse of the stars comes with a side of neck tension. 

According to Carlberg, the new planetarium would also improve pedagogy.  

“In Canada, most of the planetariums are in things like the Ontario Science Centre — but they don’t have an academic use there,” said Carlberg. “We’re not looking to do what Ontario Science Centre does, which is orient it to the public at large. We’re interested in giving students the best possible education.” 

In addition to providing one-of-a-kind learning opportunities for their students, the department hopes that the new planetarium will be a forum for reconciliation and Indigenous education.  

“Indigenous people… have a sky lore of their own,” explained Carlberg. 

“We have a sky lore with our Greek and Roman constellations and they have theirs. In fact, there [are] several, for different native communities across North America because they each have their own stories. So that’s a thing we would like to do, is reach out to folks and to try to help them succeed within the University of Toronto.”

The department is now in the ‘idea stage’ of the design process. Since the current Astronomy & Astrophysics Building would have to be demolished to build the planetarium, there is discussion over other potential features of the building including an observatory, faculty offices, and teaching labs. 

Though details are sparse, the department hopes  that the new facility will be an architectural landmark whose purpose goes beyond the scope of astronomy, from visualizing climate data to exploring the neural networks of the human brain. 

Student-funded, space-bound

The University of Toronto Aerospace Team prepares to launch a satellite into space

Student-funded, space-bound

Article by Mari Ramsawakh

The University of Toronto may make its claim to space following the U of T Aerospace Team’s (UTAT) successful levy referendum last spring. The money from the levy goes toward its Innovation Fund, which was established to create a new project for UTAT: a student-built and student-funded satellite to launch into space. Members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) from UTSG will pay the $2.77 per term levy over the next two years.UTAT is a student-run research and design group that aims to incite curiosity and spark interest in aerospace engineering. While the satellite is UTAT’s latest project, the Space Systems Division is only one of several branches of the group. The group also has a Rocketry Division currently working on a hybrid rocket that could break Canada’s high altitude record and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Division that is currently the defending champion of the Unmanned Systems Canada competition.
So, how has UTAT been using the Innovation Fund since its inception? How is the satellite coming? I met with UTAT at their office in McLennan Physical Laboratories to find out.


The team

The office, located in the basement of the building, snugly fits five of the Space Systems team members. Every workspace is covered in small plastic and metal components, which were later identified to me as 3D-printed prototypes of components of the satellite.

Although the whole Space Systems Division couldn’t meet with me, several of the Division’s team leads met to tell me more about the satellite project. Before delving into UTAT’s specific plans, I spent some time getting to know a little bit about how these undergraduates got involved with aerospace design.

Ridwan Howlader is a prime example of the sort of trajectory that UTAT can inspire; he’s the Executive Director of UTAT and the Senior Engineering Designer for the Space Systems Division. Howlader first joined UTAT during one of its outreach programs run through high schools — this means he’s been with UTAT longer than he’s been at U of T. As Executive Director, Howlader is part of the strategic and technical planning of all the projects that UTAT is involved in.

“I really appreciate the members and the energy and being curious and wanting to learn,” he told me. “It just aligns with our mission and vision.”

Katie Gwozdecky is the Director of Space Systems and a fifth-year engineering student. She’s in charge of the administrative details of the Space Systems Division, although her focus has shifted away from her initial interest in the technical aspects of the work and toward the team’s culture and keeping them aligned with their passions and needs.

“I think that no team can operate at their best if people aren’t considered to be contributors in any way,” said Gwozdecky. “We also have to make sure that people are given the space they need to do what they want to do.”

Gwozdecky has been with UTAT for five years, initially discovering the group in her first year. She explained that from the moment she saw the rockets at a clubs fair, she knew this was a group she wanted to join. Gwozdecky has been with the Space Systems Division since its creation.

Addy Bhatia, the System Design and Attitude Control Lead, has been with UTAT since fall of last year. The third-year engineering student was determined to join the team and jumped at an opportunity when he could. Now, his role involves figuring out how and where the satellite points as it separates from the rocket, as well as mechanical integrations of smaller projects into the satellite.

Victor Nechita is an aerospace engineering student who has also only been working with UTAT for the last year. Nechita is the Project Manager of the Space Systems Division, meaning that he is the one in charge of managing deadlines and scheduling as well as liaising with their launch providers.

“Your task is not just limited to a competition, we kind of extend beyond that in that we’re trying to have a real impact on the world by creating an open platform for these microbiology experiments,” said Nechita. “Being able to conduct that as a student team has been fantastic, so I hands down love being a part of the team.”

Avinash Mukkala, the Payload Lead, is a member of the team who isn’t focusing so much on the satellite, but rather the experiment for which it’ll be collecting data. Mukkala is a fourth-year molecular genetics student who joined during the first iteration of the satellite three years ago. As much as team culture has taken precedent in this group, Mukkala found that he was most proud of the scientific and technological progress UTAT has actually made on the satellite since its first iteration.

“It isn’t just a bunch of students that are just building something and putting it into space,” explained Mukkala. “There is a lot of advisors involved, there’s a lot of critical design reviews involved. The process is what I enjoy.”

They also get to learn from real experts in their fields. For example, shortly after meeting with me, several leads on the team travelled to Huntsville, Alabama to attend a NASA conference.

The mission

The first iteration of the satellite was designed for the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, in which universities across Canada were challenged to design a satellite in a two-year cycle that, once built, could survive the rigorous qualifying testing in order to win the competition. While the contest originally promised that the winning designs would be launched, there weren’t any formal offers to actually launch the satellites. UTAT decided to take the launch into their own hands.

But as Mukkala said, UTAT is more than just a couple of students sending something into space for bragging rights. There is a purpose to the satellite and its launch: a microbiology experiment.

The purpose of the satellite is to send up a payload of genetically modified cells and examine how they grow and react to an environment that is under the effect of microgravity. Mukkala was part of the team that genetically engineered the cells to send up into space. The cells they are using are a form of yeast that is found in the human gut, called candida albicans.

According to Mukkala and Bhatia, there have been several studies from NASA and other researchers that suggest that astronauts who experience long-duration space flight in microgravity can experience immunological changes because of the upregulation of the expression of certain genes in their T-cells and B-cells.

Mukkala said that space is very sterile, but our own bodies contain bacteria, and long space flights require more than one astronaut. If an astronaut is immunocompromised — meaning their immune system is impaired — they can become more susceptible to urinary tract infections or other kinds of infections. Bhatia added that this is a significant concern because, in these situations, necessary medical aid is not accessible in space.

The yeast cells will be loaded onto the UTAT satellite and examined to see how much the genes change over the course of two days in orbit. The sensors they’ll be using in the satellite have already demonstrated that they can be used in a space-like environment and can produce reproducible results. If these studies go on to prove the theories put forth by NASA and other scientists, then similar studies can continue to explore how medications may behave differently in space.

“For that reason we’re putting together a very small-scale, cheap platform that students like us can build and keep on building in the future across the world, to do studies that are as significant as this to the scientific and space community, that would benefit future space exploration,” explained Bhatia.

“Something else to note is that the results that we get from an experiment are usually applicable to more than just one situation,” added Mukkala. “Science is very spontaneous. Things happen as they go. It’s a matter of developing technology that can pace with the spontaneity of science.”

The Innovation Fund was planned to serve only on the Space Systems project and the satellite launch. According to Howlader, a large portion of the levy will be used for the launch costs, which can be “hundreds of thousands of dollars” paid through several installments over the two-year period. All other funds go directly into designing and developing the satellite.

While the first iteration that was built for the design competition withstood the structural testing that it required, the designers of the Space Systems Division found that it was difficult to manufacture and develop. That’s why the satellite has now entered its second iteration; included in this iteration is a new outer design of the satellite. Additionally, each system is being designed to be prototyped and manufactured more quickly.


The future

The true importance of a project like this is not in the immediate results of the launch but rather in the longevity of the project and the doors that it will open. The purpose of UTAT is to get students not only excited about aerospace engineering, but to make it more accessible. UTAT wants to create an environment where students can learn outside the classroom and put the theories they have learned into practice.

“The ability to show that students at the undergraduate level can get involved very deeply into something that only people like NASA have done before is very, very big,” said Howlader.

UTAT is more than just for students in STEM fields. Students involved in commerce, marketing, finance, and outreach can get involved to work on the business development aspect to the group.

“We have an entire system that can be for anyone who has any curiosity to come and learn this stuff,” Howlader told me. “I think a really big thing is how interdisciplinary the aerospace community really is.”

The Ontario Science Centre is already using old UTAT equipment for educational purposes. It’s only a matter of time before the first U of T student-launched satellite becomes the next attraction.

Discovering music in space

Planetary orbits of TRAPPIST-1 solar system follow rhythmic harmonies

Discovering music in space

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once described music as “the universal language of mankind.” The discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 solar system takes this a step further by demonstrating how the characteristics of what we have come to know as music exists even beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

TRAPPIST-1 is a red dwarf star, recently discovered to have seven Earth-sized planets that orbit it. Astronomers have noted that several of these planets maintain a temperature that can sustain liquid water, indicating that living forms may potentially exist outside our solar system.

However, a simulation of orbital paths has depicted the collision of TRAPPIST-1’s seven exoplanets as a result of planetary “jostling” by gravitational waves.

In reality, this does not happen. But what exactly keeps the exoplanets from being reduced to clouds of dust? It turns out that the seven planetary orbits follow a chain of resonances and has set the record for the longest chain discovered to this day.

Dr. Matt Russo, a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, remarks that the orbit size of these exoplanets follow whole number ratios, such as 3:2 and 4:3, similar to the basis of musical harmony as discovered by Pythagoras. “By taking the actual orbital frequencies and scaling them into the human hearing range, TRAPPIST-1 produces a lush harmonious chord which is strangely familiar,” says Russo.

To illustrate the movement of these seven planets, the orbital frequencies of each planet were scaled up within the human range of hearing. In the musical animation they have created, a corresponding note plays each time a specific planet completes an orbit around the TRAPPIST-1 star. A percussion sound indicates that a planet has caught up with a neighbouring planet in their respective orbits, and differs depending on the pair of planets in question.

It is important to point out that tidal forces slowly detune orbits since the planets interact closely with each other. Consequently, orbit sizes are not exactly whole number ratios, but roughly so, resulting in notes that are slightly out of tune.

Resonance may allow musical harmony, but it can either cause planetary systems to be in chaos or allow for stability. Dr. Daniel Tamayo, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Planetary Science, says that along with orbit size, parameters like orbital shape and the orbits’ orientation relative to each other, are also crucial.

Tamayo describes the TRAPPIST-1 system as an orchestra, in which keeping time, or resonance, is not enough to guarantee stability. “If they don’t also tune their instruments to one another beforehand, there won’t be any harmony,” Tamayo adds.

However, these additional orbital parameters are difficult to determine, which may have been why the initial simulations failed. Tamayo and his colleagues began to look back in time to examine how the system may have formed. Planets are born through disks of gas and dust. Incredibly, these planets start moving relative to each other as they form and interact.

“If this process is gentle enough, then planets can naturally tune all their orbital parameters to one another,” Tamayo explains, “just like the orchestra does before a symphony.”

The creation of harmonized systems was made possible by this fine tuning on top of TRAPPIST-1’s chain of resonances. As a result, simulations that once predicted collision began to depict the survival of the majority of these systems. Resonance may keep the system together, but it is the fine tuning of the system that prevents its destruction.

The TRAPPIST-1 system is unique in that it can be translated into music. Resonance is rare among solar systems; most systems can only produce a chaotic blend of notes and beats once translated.

An example of this would be Kepler 90, which also has seven planets. However, since the Kepler 90 system does not have planets in resonance, the system cannot produce harmonious music. Russo notes that even our own solar system fails at doing so and can only create “many dissonant sounds and shifting, uncomfortable rhythms.”

But what makes the TRAPPIST-1 different from “non-musical” solar systems? This may all depend on the turbulence of the initial disks that the planets were created from. “It seems that the disk that the TRAPPIST-1 planets formed out of was relatively calm so that the planets could slide into this stable resonance,” says Russo, “Most disks are probably too turbulent to let planets stay in such a pattern.”

There remain numerous unanswered questions surrounding the TRAPPIST-1 system, but discovering music in space is one small step for mankind towards uncovering the mysteries of the universe.

Think smaller: nanosatellites may be the future

The University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory has successfully demonstrated the use of autonomous spacecraft for piloting nanosatellites

Think smaller: nanosatellites may be the future

The first satellite was launched by the USSR in 1957, signalling the begining of the twentieth century’s space race and igniting humanity’s fascination with the final frontier. The Sputnik satellite was the forerunner to the nearly 6,600 artificial satellites that have since found a home in Earth’s orbit.

Each of these satellites are controlled by human pilots back on earth, which increases their operating expenditure. With this expense in mind, the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), in collaboration with Deep Space Industries (DSI), recently announced the first successful demonstration of autonomous spacecraft maneuvering using two nanosatellites.

Nanosatellites have gained popularity in recent years because of their small, lightweight builds. This allows for cheaper production and ease of transportation in an industry where every pound matters. Working together with other nanosatellites, these devices can replace a single large satellite and provide more flexibility. They are able to adapt to tasks such as deep space asteroid mining operations.

Traditional, resource-laden human control of satellites is not feasible for the synchronized interactions of large nanosatellite flocks, resulting in a need for autonomous operation. SFL and DSI’s recent trial is revolutionary because a single satellite has never before autonomously programmed another to execute propulsive maneuvers, completely operator free.

“This experiment was a key demonstration of a critical capability for multi-spacecraft asteroid missions, as well as- constellations of spacecraft in Earth orbit,” said Grant Bonin, DSI’s chief engineer. “It was also a first step in demonstrating ship-to-shore command relay in-space, which could potentially reduce the difficulty of communicating with very small spacecraft at long range.”

The trial made use of two Canadian Advanced Nanospace eXperiment (CanX) nanosatellites CanX-4 and CanX-5, which were designed, built, and launched by SFL in June 2014.

Working in partnership with DSI during the trial, SFL operators performed a DSI-defined experiment in orbit, in which CanX-4 autonomously programmed CanX-5 to thrust itself into a higher orbit without any operator input beyond SFL’s initial programming. Operators at SFL’s Mission Control Center in Toronto and data from the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base confirmed the success of the procedure.

“The experiment was an important risk reduction exercise for DSI, which intends to use small spacecraft for initial asteroid prospecting missions in the next five years,” says Bonin.

“The ability to relay commands from spacecraft to spacecraft, and perform in-space maneuvers autonomously, without operator intervention, is a critical capability that has major implications for mission-level redundancy — not just for asteroid missions, but also for low-cost Earth orbit constellations. This also shows that, if necessary, we can take the operator entirely out of the loop during a mission, which can translate into significant savings.”

The Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies develops state-of-the-art space technology at low cost without sacrificing quality or introducing risk. This project signals the start of what SFL and DSI expect to be a fruitful partnership that brings cutting-edge, low-cost space technologies and to the market, while also enabling low-cost asteroid missions.

We are all #UnitedByTheStars

New planetarium series from the Dunlap Institute to deliver aid to Syrian refugees

We are all #UnitedByTheStars

With Canada welcoming approximately 25,000 Syrian refugees this year, U of T is full of exciting student initiatives to raise funds that will help landed refugees resettle. These initiatives include a special series of planetarium shows, organized by graduate students, Jielai Zhang and Pegah Salbi of the University of Toronto, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The show is called “Astronomy’s Golden Age,” and the students intend to give 100 per cent of the proceeds from ticket sales to Red Cross Canada. The Varsity sat down with Zhang and Salbi to discuss the upcoming series.

The Varsity (TV): How did you come up with this idea?

Jielai Zhang and Pegah Salbi: We had been watching the news and heard about this huge problem about people being displaced both in Syria and to the neighbouring regions. There were all these problems about people not having enough food to eat or places to stay and everyone was helping to solve this issue. So we thought that we should do something to help them too. We thought that there is a planetarium in our department, and we should use astronomy to educate people and at the same time, they can do good too by supporting Syrian refugees. We set a target for raising $10,000 and we are already at 20 per cent [of that amount].

TV: When you first came up with this idea, how did the department respond?

Zhang and Salbi:We first pitched this idea to the graduate students, because we wanted to see what the response would be, and also because we couldn’t do all the shows and advertisement by ourselves. The response was phenomenal and very positive. All the people in the department also helped us to take care of the financial and administrative aspect.

TV: What is the show about?

Zhang and Salbi: We wanted to relate the show somehow to the cause that we’re trying to raise money for. One of our colleagues gave us an idea of representing Islamic contributions to astronomy so we can relate the show to Syria. There are a lot of connections between modern-day astronomy and Islamic astronomy. For example, a lot of the stars’ names are derived from Arabic. Astronomers present our planetarium shows, and they start from Earth and can travel to different planets, etc. The room is a black dome, and it can simulate the night sky.

TV: Why did you choose to support Red Cross Canada?

Zhang and Salbi: Red Cross has many programs designed to help refugees, and we were interested in two of them. One of them is focused on internally displaced Syrians as well as refugees in neighbouring countries, and the money directly goes to buying them food, emergency kits, medication, water, and basic survival needs. The other program helps Syrian refugees coming to Canada resettle smoothly and help them transition into the Canadian culture. The reason we picked Red Cross was because it is one of the most efficient organization[s] in terms of providing food, healthcare and shelter. Ninety-five per cent of the funds go directly to helping the Syrians. In total, we have scheduled 24 shows up to March. Each show holds 26 people.

TV: What was your favourite part about organizing the shows?

Zhang and Salbi: Our favourite part was the enthusiasm and positive energy we received from the department to pursue our idea. We have four people who [have] worked endlessly to formulate the presentation[…] We have been working on this project for the past two months, [and] about 30 people have been a part of this process.

TV: Do you have anything else you’d like to say to the readership?

Zhang and Salbi: As an endnote, we want to pose a challenge for the rest of the U of T community to support the Syrian refugees in any way possible. We, as astronomers, are teaching about astronomy so we want to see what other departments and faculties can do to support the refugees. By investing in their health and well-being, they will become resettled in Canada, and they will gain knowledge and may advance the field of science. The stars unite us all, and humanity should too.

The series will be held at the planetarium at 50 St George St. Tickets are $10; the first show is scheduled for January 22 and the second for January 28.