A group of students at Montreal’s Concordia University are trying to get the world’s first self-repairing satellite off the ground.
The satellite, called ConSat-2, would use a composite material, also developed at Concordia, which can automatically seal small cracks with an epoxy resin.
According to Mehdi Sabzalian, project lead for ConSat-2 at Space Concordia, while the technology was developed for use in space it has never been tested in orbit.
The team has been working on designing the satellite for around a year, as part of the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC), a nationwide satellite design contest for university students.
Space Concordia won the last CSDC with their previous design, ConSat-1. The European Space Agency plans to launch the satellite and is currently conducting final testing on ConSat-1 before giving it final clearance.
Though, with many Space Concordia members graduating, Sabzalian says he’s the only person who worked on the first satellite still working on the second project. And the students do the all the work they can, according to Sabzalian.
“We build everything ourselves,” says Sabzalian. “All the assembly and testing we do ourselves.”
However, some components can’t be built in-house, meaning the project faces high costs.
“Solar cells aren’t cheap,” says Sabzalian.
He says the team needs $30,000 to build the actual satellite. They’ve lined some sponsors but they’re also trying to raise $15,000 on crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
“We have experience,” says Sabzalian. “Our risks are mostly not having funds.”
If the “self-healing” technology is successful, it could have significant application for satellite manufacturers, says Sabzalian. Space dust and mircometeors pose a significant threat to satellites.
“It’s a risk that’s always out there,” says Sabzalian.
While larger meteorites are tracked, “the small ones are really hard to track,” said Sabzalian.
Micrometeors often weigh less than a gram and can travel 10 times faster than the speed of a bullet. A micrometeor strike has been suspected as the cause of an ammonia leak on the International Space Station in May, says Sabzalian.
While astronauts were able to repair that problem, “repairs are very costly in space,” says Sabzalian. And while the ISS has a crew, for “other satellites out there, there’s no way to repair them.”
The Space Concordia team completed a design review in September and wants to start building the satellite in March. Their deadline to have assembly complete for the CSDC is the end of May.
For students in the Space Concordia program, the project gives them “a chance to work with people from other engineering disciplines,” says Sabzalian. And it’s building interest in career opportunities in the space industry.
“People should pay more attention to the space industry,” he says.