On November 11, the University of Toronto Aerospace Team’s (UTAT) Space Systems’ HERON Mk. II satellite was successfully launched into space. It was part of the SpaceX Transporter-9 mission, which delivered HERON Mk. II along with 89 other small satellites to an orbit approximately 540 kilometers above Earth’s surface.
UTAT is a team primarily composed of engineering students who design and build small satellites known as CubeSats. The team was formed in 2014 and is open to satellite enthusiasts of all backgrounds. UTAT Space Systems has become an integral part of university life for many students, providing valuable experiences and opportunities.
The journey of HERON Mk. II began with the team’s first satellite, HERON Mk. I, which was developed from 2014 to 2016. It was designed for the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge and focused on studying the effects of low Earth orbit on gene expression and drug resistance of Candida albicans, a common yeast strain found in the human gut microbiome.
Although HERON Mk. I was not launched, the team continued their work and developed HERON Mk. II for the next edition of the challenge. However, funding was a major obstacle. Space missions, even for CubeSats, are expensive, and the estimated cost for HERON Mk. II was approximately $400,000. The team successfully raised funds through a student levy and secured their funding.
After securing funding, UTAT Space Systems focused on improving the design of HERON Mk. II and preparing it for space. They signed a contract with launch services provider Spaceflight in 2018 and completed the softstack of the spacecraft in January 2020. Thermal vacuum chamber testing was conducted in February 2020 to ensure the satellite’s survival in the space environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to the team’s assembly plans. However, they were able to find an alternate location to assemble HERON Mk. II and completed the assembly in March to April 2021. Vibration testing was conducted in June 2021 to validate the satellite’s mechanical design.
With the major milestones completed, HERON Mk. II was ready for launch. Its successful lift-off marked the culmination of nearly a decade of dedication and perseverance by the UTAT Space Systems team. The launch opens up new opportunities for research and exploration in space.