UK, Austrian teens take European CanSat championships

Europe's teen satellite-makers gathered under the clear blue skies of Portugal to compete in the European CanSat 2015 competition Credit: D.Cruz/Esa

The European Space Agency (Esa) announced the results of the European CanSat 2015 competition. The program challenges European teens to design, build, and launch a model satellite, giving them hands-on experience with the engineering and science of space exploration.

CanSats after recovery. Despite their small size, CanSats can contain sophisticated combinations of sensors. Credit: D. Sors/Esa

The model satellites may be the size of soda cans. They may never actually go into space. But CanSats contain many of the same systems as a full-sized satellite: power, control, communications, as well as telemetry and scientific sensors. CanSat projects involve many different skills:

  • Designing the CanSat and its science mission requires solid grounding in science and mathematics;
  • Combining many different technologies together on time and on budget requires systems engineering and project management skills;
  • Building mechanical and electrical systems - and writing the code to get them working together - requires hands-on skills as well as the patience and determination to overcome the inevitable glitches.

Esa uses CanSat projects to inspire secondary school students’ interest in technical careers. Student teams follow a formal design review process similar to the one Esa’s own engineering teams follow. They must submit Preliminary Design Reviews, Critical Design Reviews, and Final Design Reviews to a review board much like the space agency’s own mission development teams. A test program - dropping the CanSat from a low-flying airplane - demonstrates the teams’ readiness for launch on Esa’s suborbital rockets.

This year’s European CanSat competition brought 16 teams from 14 Esa member-states to Lisbon, Portugal. Rockets launched the CanSats to 1,000-meter altitudes within 10 seconds, subjecting the devices to 20 times the force of gravity. After release from the rocket, each CanSat collected and transmitted data to a ground station as it parachuted to the ground. Teams then analysed their data and present their results. The jury didn’t base their decisions solely on the technical aspects of the projects. The students had to demonstrate the educational value of their involvement and explain how they communicated the goals and progress to their school and community.

Team Impulse from St Paul’s School in the United Kingdom took first prize in the advanced category. Their CanSat collected atmospheric data during its descent and then deployed a small rover upon landing. German and Danish teams placed 2nd and 3rd respectively. Austria's Team AlpSat used several techniques to measure their CanSat’s motion during descent to take first prize in the beginners category. Polish and Italian teams rounded out the top three beginners teams.

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