Carleton 3-Unit CubeSat – CuSAT

Carleton University Satellite Project

Faculty of Engineering and Design


Roles:  Structures Subsystem Advisor (2016 – Present)

Lead Systems Integrator (Winter 2016)

Lead Structures (Fall 2015)





The Carleton University CuSAT project was born as one of the fourth year undergraduate engineering capstone projects. With the aim of providing students with the opportunity to design, build, test, and eventually launch a spacecraft, Carleton undertook the design of a 3-Unit CubeSat as its final year project in Fall 2016. The CuSAT project has since evolved to include the participation of industry professionals, masters, and Ph.D. students.

CubeSat Mission Statement and Objectives

With more than 2.3 million hectares of forest being destroyed by wild fires each year, the Carleton CuSAT project seeks to aid in the detection and location of forest fires to quicken the response time of emergency responders. As such, our satellite’s mission is to “Discover anomalous hot spots for the purpose of determining the location of forest fires”.

This particular mission has three primary objectives:

  • Collect data characterizing the position of a hot spot on Earth for the observation, measurement, and location of forest fires;
  • Develop technical expertise and capabilities in the technologies associated with designing, building and flying an Earth observation nanosatellite with an Infra-Red imaging radiometer;
  • Demonstrate that CubeSat technology can be inexpensive, reliable, and useful for Earth observation missions.


The mission has unofficially been named DANTE (Detection of Anomalistic Thermal Events)


Mission Overview

The mission is developed to make use of a small microbolometer thermal imaging payload which is capable of measuring surface temperature. Once the CubeSat is within the desired target region, the instrument, flown on the CubeSat, will continuously observe the surface of the Earth until a temperature greater than 450 degrees Celsius is detected in any pixel of the microbolometer FPA. The payload and OBC will then store the location (with respect of the FPA) of the pixel(s) which exceeded the threshold temperature as well as the attitude at the instant of the event. Using pixel location, spacecraft attitude and time of the event, the location of the thermal anomaly on Earth’s surface may be determined through processing on the ground.

General Satellite Characteristics

Payload: Uncooled Microbolometric Detector

Orbit: Sun-synchronous or ISS

Ground Resolution: 500 m

Swath Width: 200 km

Attitude Determination: Sun-Sensors and Magnetometers

Attitude Control: Magnetorquers

Communications: Omnidirectional Antenna at 450 MHz

Mass: 4 kg

The CuSAT project from my Eyes

The first four months of the CuSAT project was dedicated towards defining the CubeSat mission. To do so, the project team was split into 3 groups each taking on the conceptual design of its own mission. As a member of the original group to work on DANTE, I took on the conceptual design of the Structure which I based on the “Innovated Solutions In Space 3-Unit Structure” and looked over the system level mass, volume and power budget. Furthermore, I took on some responsibilities of group lead and integrator, which helped me truly comprehend how the various components within the satellite worked together to create a fully functional satellite. After our conceptual design review in December 2015, DANTE was selected as the mission for the Carleton CuSAT project given that it had been the best developed mission out of the three.

With DANTE adopted as the mission for the CuSAT project, the 25 students were re-distributed into subsystems in order to proceed with the preliminary design of our CubeSat. In this new team structure, I assumed the role of systems engineering team lead as encouraged by the project lead engineers and my fellow colleagues given my familiarity with all components and subsystems of the conceptual design, and system functional, operational, and derived requirements. In this role I was able to demonstrate my ability to guide team member through a structured, easy to follow, and effective design process while ensuring effective cooperation and communication between subsystems.

As my purely technical contribution to the project (while being the lead systems integrator), I took on the design of a CubeSat testing rig. Its main purpose is to allow us to conduct vibration and shock tests on the assembled CubeSat while within its corresponding deployment pod, at different orientations. To more accurately mimic existing commercial deployment pods, I based the design of this testing pod on the Cal Poly Mk. II P-Pod, UTIAS X-Pod, and the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD).

Since graduating from my undergraduate program, I have continued to be actively involved in the CuSAT project as advisor for the structures subsystem. In this role, I help guide students from the structures subsystem through the design of the 3-U CubeSat structure, giving short lessons and tutorials on how to use ANSYS Workbench, and teaching important practices for the proper generation of 3D CAD models and engineering manufacturing drawings. I also participate in meetings with lead engineers to discuss student progress, evaluate student performance, and discuss aspects of the design as a whole. As such, I attend weekly 3 hour meeting with the entire project team and individual subsystem meetings as required.