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Lacombe resident hopes to launch satellite by 2016

As the pile of money grows higher, so does a former Lacombe resident’s hopes of sending a satellite into space.

Charles Nokes, who graduated from Lacombe Composite High School in 2011, is one of the team members working feverishly towards getting Alberta’s first satellite into orbit in January 2016. The goal is to study the effects of solar flares on the Earth’s magnetic field.

The engineering physics student, entering his fourth year at the University of Alberta, is seeing the project get incrementally closer to fruition with the infusion of more and more funds.

Through government grants and a crowdfunding campaign, his group has raised $48,000 of the $60,000 needed to launch the satellite and about $70,000 of the $100,000 to $120,000 estimated cost of building it.

“We’re still looking at larger funding sources,” said Nokes.

But the hefty amounts raised so far have buoyed his hopes that province’s first satellite will be ready to go into orbit when a rocket is launched from Brazil, carrying 50 such small satellites some 350 km above the Earth.

He hopes to have it ready for testing in the Netherlands next year.

Nokes, who aims to work with the Canadian Space Agency or even NASA one day, is beyond excited to be already working in the aerospace field.

The student is helping with design aspects of the satellite that will be equipped with cameras, as well as a probe to measure changes in charged particle densities, and a digital sensor to pick up fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field.

He will also be studying the data collected, along with other students and academic advisors. The wide-ranging project involves participation from the university’s science, business, arts and computer science departments.

Nokes said the small size of the planned satellite will enable it to stay in space longer before being dragged down by the Earth’s gravitational pull.

Most other ones are much larger, so are not able to stay in the lower-altitude orbit that’s needed for gathering data on the affects of solar flares. “There aren’t any satellites to gather that kind of information,” said Nokes.

And the information collected will be very useful, as solar storms occasionally wreak havoc on the Earth.

In 1859, a solar storm called the Carrington Event caused some telegraph lines to spark, shocking some operators. Studies indicate a solar storm of this magnitude would cause widespread problems for today’s civilization.

A smaller solar storm in 1989 knocked Hydro-Quebec’s electrical grid offline for nine hours.

Nokes said Alberta’s satellite is expected to have a lifespan of two to five months before burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere when it drops to 90 km from the planet’s surface. “It’s not going to be space junk. It will work until everything is burned.”

Anyone interested in donating to the project can visit www.albertasat.ca/donate.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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