New Space and Tech

CanSat Competitions On The Rise

By Keith Cowing
November 29, 2013
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CanSat Competitions On The Rise
Cansat payload

Across Europe, more student teams than ever before are drawing up their plans for launching CanSats. These tiny ‘satellites’ fit into a drinks can yet perform a scientific ‘mission’ when launched from a small rocket.
CanSats do not go into space but are released from a rocket or a balloon at about 1km altitude. On the way back to the ground, the CanSat has to perform a certain mission and land safely.

Highlighting the popularity of CanSats among high-school students, there will be more national competitions than ever in 2014. Portugal and Germany will be holding their first contest. The UK will hold its first national event, after a successful regional competition in Scotland in 2012. Norway will expand its annual competition to include entries from Denmark and Finland.

Countries including the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Italy and Belgium will continue with their already established annual competitions. Meanwhile, Nordic ESERO (European Space Education Resource Office) will offer training courses in CanSat construction to interested teachers from the Nordic region.

As the number of competitions increases, so too does the need for equipment. In January 2014, the ESA/T-Minus CanSat kit will be ready for distribution. National competition organisers can request kits for free in 2014 from the ESA Education office and individual teams will be able to purchase the kits online.

“Designing and building a CanSat is an excellent way for students to develop skills in engineering and scientific analysis, as well as teamwork and project management”, says Helen Page of the ESA Education Office. “They learn what it is like to work on a real space mission and have a lot of fun doing it!”

The winners of some national competitions will be automatically entered into the next European CanSat Competition, which is being organised by ESA’s Education Office, in collaboration with the Norwegian Centre for Space-related Education (NAROM).

There are up to 16 launch slots available in 2014, and the event will take place between 1-5 June at the Andoya Rocket Range in Andenes, Norway. As well as winning a place through the national competitions, teams can also apply to enter directly. The deadline for direct entries into the European competition is fast approaching on 1 December 2013.

For the 2014 tournament, every CanSat must measure the air temperature and air pressure as it falls back to Earth. It must transmit this data at least once a second to the ground team, so that it can be analysed and displayed on a graph.

In addition, the CanSat must perform a secondary mission chosen by its team. This could be to measure more advanced parameters such as acceleration, GPS location or surrounding radiation levels.

Alternatively, it could be to perform a landing using some form of control mechanism such as a parafoil to come down as close as possible to a target.

The secondary mission does not even need to start until the CanSat touches down. This would be the case if it were to simulate the exploration of a planetary surface that requires in-situ measurements of an alien landscape.

The missions are limited only by the imaginations of the students involved. This year, more students than ever before will be designing, building and launching CanSats. Clearly, although the ‘satellites’ are small, the appetite for them across Europe is getting larger all the time.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.