U of A joins rocketry space race

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta has formally joined a space race of sorts. It's not a race to another planet; it's a race to get students onboard with careers in space science and technology. A delegation from the U of A just returned from Norway with a formal agreement to launch a rocketry program with the University of Oslo called the Canada-Norway Sounding Rocket Program, or CaNoRock.

Over the last year and a half, three groups of U of A students have made the trip to the Andøya Rocket Range in Norway, where the students built and then flew science experiments on super-sonic rockets. Dave Miles, a U of A graduate student in physics, has been to Andøya twice and says that it's an unbelievable experience for people with their eye on space. "Now we have a fully funded three-year program that will see 60 Canadian students build scientific instruments and design missions for sounding rocket launches," he said.

Sounding rockets are commonly used for atmospheric monitoring, space science and as a proving ground for satellite instruments that are set to fly in space. "These rockets are re-purposed military missiles, about two metres in height that can reach an altitude of nine to 10 kilometres," said Miles.

Norway and Canada are good fit for a joint rocket training program, says Miles. "We are geographically similar; we've both got interest in the Arctic and we both need engineers who can design and build homegrown space-satellite programs." The Andøya Rocket Range is on the coast of Norway overlooking the North Sea.

Organizers of the program say sounding rockets provide entry-level access to the high-risk, high-cost world of space satellite missions. "The undergraduate students can send a sounding rocket up for between $20,000 and $30,000 dollars," said Miles, "but you have to prove yourself at that level before a space agency will let you anywhere near a satellite mission that costs tens or hundreds of millions of dollars."

"Canada has the fourth-largest aerospace industry in the world," says U of A professor Ian Mann, a Canada Research Chair in space physics. Mann helped create the program and its focus. "CaNoRock aims to attract Canada's best into careers that maintain and expand Canada's place in space."

Besides the U of A, the universities of Calgary and Saskatchewan will put students through the week in Andøya. Funders for the program include the U of A's Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, which contributed $120,000 over three years, and the Canadian Space Agency, which will contribute $300,000 over three years.

The U of A's part in the CaNoRock program was developed by the university's Institute for Space Science Exploration. Miles says ISSET has one foot in engineering and the other in science, and both interests are represented in a new learning venture for U of A undergraduates. "We're putting the curriculum together for an introductory space-science and instrumentation course that we hope to offer next year," he said.

The expansion of the Andøya rocketry program could be the icing on the cake for that course, says Miles. "Those students would be in a great position to spend a week in Norway putting their new-found knowledge of rockets 10 kilometres up over the North Sea."

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