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Halifax space program gets $485K to urge diverse young people to study the stars

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

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

“We already see great things coming out of right here in the Atlantic provinces.”

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

The ATLAS, or the Atlantic Academy of Space, is an intensive two week satellite design program co-founded by Dalhousie University’s non-profit SuperNOVA and GALAXIA Mission Systems in collaboration with Dalhousie Space Systems Lab, a multidisciplinary team focused on researching miniature satellites or CubeSats.

The program aims to get more kids involved in space and bridge the gap in terms of the lack of women, Black and Indigenous people in the space industry.

Alexandra Fenton, executive director of SuperNOVA says 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 over three years.

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

“We got great new funding so we’re able to reach more kids with this fantastic program.” 

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

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

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

Since the program’s first iteration in 2021, enrolment has gone from 25 people to 50.

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

Alexandra Fenton is the executive director at SuperNOVA. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Ley says 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 make groups so that they can get to know each other and their strengths and their weaknesses, because if they do come to Dalhousie, or any university for engineering, that will be the world that they integrate into.”

Fenton says one of ATLAS’s primary goals is working toward gender parity and a target of 50 per cent Indigenous and Black student enrolment. She says they’ve been collaborating with youth-serving organizations to promote the opportunity and are excited to get even more kids involved for the next cohort.

“Everybody knows that if you have a diverse field, if you have a diverse industry, you’re getting the best ideas from everybody in all walks of life.”

Since 1984, Canada has had 14 astronauts participate 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 of the program so that more young people from all walks of life are drawn to the space industry. 

“In engineering, and in STEM, across the board, there is really low enrolment of students from diverse backgrounds and of women so we are trying our best to make sure that women and youth from BIPOC populations feel safe and welcome in all of our programs,” said Fenton.

“We are ever improving our technology and the programming that goes along with it. We are very hopeful that at some point in the future, we might be able to launch one of the CubeSats built by our students into space.”



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