Halifax space program gets $485,000 to inspire diverse youth to study stars

A Halifax-based space engineering initiative wants to attract young people from diverse backgrounds to the space industry – and after recently receiving nearly half a million dollars in funding, organizers say they plan to expand the program.

“I would like to see our program go national. We can take this model and apply it to other provinces in the country,” said Arad Gharagozli, CEO of GALAXIA Mission Systems, a local space systems company and co-founder of the free ATLAS program.

“We’re already seeing great things coming out right here in the Atlantic provinces.”

Gharagozli, who has a background in electrical engineering, teaches most of the core courses and his company GALAXIA provides the spacecraft hardware for the program as well as technical support and documentation.

ATLAS, or Atlantic Academy of Space, is an intensive two-week satellite design program co-founded by Dalhousie University Nonprofit SuperNOVA and GALAXIA mission systems in collaboration with Dalhousie Space Systems Lab, a multidisciplinary team focused on the research of miniature satellites or CubeSats.

The program aims to engage more children in space and close the gap in terms of the lack of women, blacks and indigenous in the space industry.

Alexandra Fenton, executive director of SuperNOVA, said the program recently received $50,000 from the Canadian Space Agency as well as $435,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s PromoScience program to support the program on three years.

Instructor Jarman Ley helps students with an assignment (Dylan Jones/CBC)

“We’ve secured great new funding, allowing us to reach more children with this fantastic program.”

The course is designed to teach students how to build a CubeSat (miniaturized versions of full-size satellites that are typically used for research, urban planning, and reservoir monitoring), as well as learning skills in artificial intelligence, programming and in space technology.

“You can expect a lot of learning about vehicle launch systems, spacecraft,” said Jarman Ley, program coordinator with SuperNOVA and instructor for ATLAS.

“We start at a point where we use breadboards or solderless circuits, and they start from day one of the build, so we show them how the electronics work, and they go from there and as they go As the days progress in circuitry, we get them to actually solder and create their own circuit boards.”

Since the first iteration of the program in 2021, enrollment has grown from 25 people to 50.

“My parents showed it to me, and it looked cool, and I love space and engineering. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know, and I want to know more,” said said Dylan Doyle, one of 50 high school students enrolled in the ATLAS program this year.

Alexandra Fenton is the Executive Director of SuperNOVA. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Ley says that in addition to practical skills like computer programming and knowledge of AI, the course will also teach students the ability to collaborate well with others.

“We intentionally form groups so they can get to know each other and their strengths and weaknesses, because if they come to Dalhousie, or any engineering college, that’s going to be the world they’re in. will fit in.”

Fenton says one of ATLAS’ main goals is to work toward gender parity and a goal of 50% Indigenous and Black student enrollment. She says they have partnered with youth-serving organizations to promote the opportunity and are excited to involve even more children for the next cohort.

“Everyone knows that if you have a diverse field, if you have a diverse industry, you get the best ideas from everyone in every walk of life.”

Since 1984, 14 Canadian astronauts have participated in space missions.

Fenton says the ATLAS initiative is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, and they plan to continue adding and advancing features to the program so that more young people from all walks of life are attracted to the space industry.

“In engineering and STEM, in all fields, there is very little enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds and women, so we are doing our best to ensure that women and young people from BIPOC populations feel safe and welcome in all of our programs,” Fenton said.

“We are constantly improving our technology and the programming that goes with it. We very much hope that at some point in the future we will be able to launch one of the CubeSats built by our students into space.”

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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