First made-in-Alberta satellite to lift off next year if crowdfunding successful

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Edmonton Journal | By Alexandra Zabjek | March 10, 2014

Alberta-built satellite into space

EDMONTON - Who wouldn’t want to be part of space history?

That’s the bet behind an ambitious University of Alberta project to design, build, and launch the first made-in-Alberta satellite. With a team of 60 students working the technical side of the project, what’s now needed is $60,000 to get the satellite off the ground in 2015.

The fundraising campaign has moved online and anyone with at least five dollars can contribute, launching the university into a new era of philanthropy and space studies.

“We’re trying to make aerospace history in Alberta,” said Ian Mann, a physics professor at the university. “The idea was to reach out with the project, to touch not just the campus community or the Edmonton community, but the Alberta and even the Canadian community to share in the excitement of this opportunity.”

The public call for funds online, crowdfunding, has been used at universities for about three years, said O’Neil Outar, vice-president of advancement at the U of A. It allows scholars to tap into groups other than university alumni and reach those who might not be signing hefty donor cheques every year.

It’s getting “people who have a shared interest in making an impact but perhaps can’t make the big donation. But (they) are able to do it collectively,” Outar said. “We’re looking at funds for projects where relatively small dollars can have a huge impact.”

The donor call for the space weather satellite, for example, was mentioned through Aurora Watch, a list serve of 26,000 people who receive email alerts on the probability of seeing an aurora.

Outar said the crowdfunding model dates back more than a century, when public appeals were printed in newspapers to help complete the Statue of Liberty. Children sent in penny contributions.

View:  Waterloo-based Research and Peer Review Crowdfunding portal

In the social media age, attracting $5, $20, or $100 contributions isn’t a sure bet. The projects most successfully pitched to a crowd generally offer donors the chance to make a tangible impact. As an incentive for the space launch, for example, those who contribute $100 or more will have their names engraved on a nanochip that will accompany the satellite if it gets to take off.

The U of A’s space weather satellite would launch with a swarm of 49 other satellites from a rocket in Brazil. The satellite would operate for three months, collecting data on space weather and how extreme events could affect global infrastructure.

“We’re interested in how the sun influences the outer atmosphere of the planet,” Mann said. “These big space storms that are driven by explosions on the sun can cause space radiation around our planet which can knock out satellites and also cause damage to ground-based infrastructure, including threatening power grids.”

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