Students’ Very Own Space Agency: Space Concordia

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Student projects are fun learning experiences. Some focus on dissecting frogs to learn about anatomy. Others germinate dried beans to learn about botany. However, some students prefer founding their own space agency. This is what students decided to do at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. The organization, Space Concordia, conducts outreach campaigns in local schools. It also designs its very own spacecraft and related products.

Space Concordia was founded in 2010 under the mentorship of assistant professor Scott Gleason to gather a student team to design a cubesat for the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge. After it won first place in the competition, Space Concordia expanded into a fully operational organization with 100 active members and many others participating in activities.

Now, Space Concordia has four divisions: SpacecraftRocketryRobotics, and Special Projects. It designs cubesats to be launched by the Canadian Space Agency, designs and launches supersonic rockets, and even designs rovers to explore alien worlds. Space Concordia recently teamed up with other student groups and industry partners to successfully organize the two-day long Montreal Space Symposium.

Aleksandr I through III have been some of Space Concordia’s entries in the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge. Credit: Space Concordia

Filling Space spoke with Hannah Jack Halcro, Space Concordia’s President, to learn more about the organization’s work and mission.

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What are the space Concordia’s next projects in spacecraft, rocketry, and robotics?

We’ve been building satellites for years, and now we’ll finally be able to launch one! Our Spacecraft Division, through the Canadian CubeSat Project (by the CSA) and in partnership with the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science at Concordia University, is designing and building a 3U cubesat that will validate technology and study the effects of climate change in northern Canada.

The Rocketry Division, having just won our first ever 1st-place prizes in two international competitions (for both our new supersonic rocket and its on-board science experiment), is shooting for space in the Base 11 Space Challenge. We’re racing to be the first student team to cross the Karman line – the boundary into space at 100km altitude. Not only that but we’re developing our first liquid propulsion system.

The Robotics Division is developing an autonomous rover that will be able to drive itself around a desert for competition in the spring and summer. The rover will be able to lift heavy objects, type on a keyboard, and do other tasks to “assist astronauts” in a simulated alien environment. The rover will also be able to detect signs of life in soil samples it takes on board!

Each one of our teams is doing bigger and better things than ever before, and I couldn’t be prouder.

How do you find the general public’s responsiveness to your outreach campaigns?

We’ve received generally very positive responses for our community engagement. Our effort to reach out started long ago as a criterion for one of our competitions, but quickly snowballed into something with a life of its own. Especially with the start of the Montreal Space Symposium in the last couple years, our focus is to bring all the amazing things we do down to an engaging and understandable level.

In general, I think people like interfacing with us. Most people, I find, at least have a passing interest in space. When we set up outreach booths, catching people walking by is never challenging.

I love that the public wants to learn about what we do! And I think it’s essential for us to be available and put effort into sharing our projects.

What motivated you to study and work in space science in the first place?

I’m not really sure when it started, but I guess I’ve always had an interest (I’m not sure I’d call it an ambition exactly) in going “out there”.

I don’t know… there’s something profound about how tiny we are in the universe, and about our drive to go out there despite all odds. You know, I’ve read and heard that astronauts feel a change after they’ve seen the Earth from space. I think there’s something we could all gain from going out there, turning around, and looking back. I think that would change a lot about us as humans.

And you know that “pale blue dot” photo from the Voyager probes? I think about that a lot.