This fund was established by a majority vote at the UTSU spring election in 2017.  From 2017 to 2019 when the proceeds of the fund are collected they will be applied to the costs of development and launch for a microbiology research satellite.  This satellite will be the first ever student-designed, student-funded research satellite to reach orbit.

In this section the materials for the campaign which ran from March 6th to March 16th 2017 are archived.  

2017 UTAT Innovation Fund Campaign


The Space Systems Division of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team is seeking a levy on undergraduate student tuition to fund the development and launch of a microbiology research satellite.


 HERON Mk I – Space Systems’ qualification model satellite which was completed in 2016

HERON Mk I – Space Systems’ qualification model satellite which was completed in 2016

The University of Toronto Aerospace Team’s Space Systems Division is in the initial stages of designing an ambitiously imagined satellite.   HERON Mk II is a CubeSat, a standardly-sized satellite which can be carried to space in the cargo bay of a larger rocket.  The satellite will carry a microbiology payload to Low Earth Orbit with samples of C. albicans, an organism naturally occurring in the human digestive tract with the potential to affect astronaut health on long term missions.  Only three microbiology research satellites have ever been launched – all by NASA. As such, there are no low-cost, open source plans for platforms for scientists worldwide to perform their own experiments.

HERON Mk II is designed to be a model for future researchers to use when developing their own satellites.  So to prove the effectiveness of this model, HERON Mk II will research the changes in the virulence of C. albicans due to microgravity.

HERON Mk II will change the way experiments are performed in space by:

(1)     Reducing costs by eliminating the need for astronauts to perform experiments

(2)     Enabling the potential for new scientific discoveries through increasing the variety of organisms that can be investigated in space by eliminating the opportunity for astronauts to be exposed

(3)     Allowing student teams and scientists to take advantage of easy space experimentation by releasing HERON Mk II’s designs as an open-source blueprint which can be integrated into any CubeSat structure

Not only will HERON Mk II’s launch be a ground-breaking, scientifically relevant mission, but it will also make UofT the origin of the first armature microbiology satellite to raise the notoriety of UofT by literally putting our name in space. 

With the UTAT Innovation Fund HERON Mk II will reach Low Earth Orbit to provide accessible, open source scientific resources for all.

 The assembly team on HERON Mk I in 2016. From left to right: Katie Gwozdecky, Sam Murray, Keenan Burnett, and Karen Morenz.

The assembly team on HERON Mk I in 2016. From left to right: Katie Gwozdecky, Sam Murray, Keenan Burnett, and Karen Morenz.

 Cells of  C. albicans  undergoing preliminary chemical tests

Cells of C. albicans undergoing preliminary chemical tests

In June 2016 the first Heron Satellite demonstrated high functionality across multiple key performance criteria in rigorous testing at the David Florida Laboratories in Ottawa, Canada’s premier satellite testing facility. HERON Mk II is poised to advance upon its predecessor’s successes and complete thermal vacuum testing, vibration testing, functionality testing and other NASA standardized tests before launch.

The development of HERON Mk II is supported by a team of highly qualified advisors from engineering companies and institutes around Toronto, including Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates, Kepler Communications, and the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies.  With this extensive network of support, and the highly dedicated team of UTAT Space Systems developing HERON Mk II, the greatest challenge towards launch is securing funding. 

With your support of the UTAT Innovation Fund this project can become a reality.  Proceeds from the Innovation Fund will go directly towards the costs of developing and launching the HERON Mk II cubesat on a mission to Low Earth Orbit. Together, we can elevate the University’s name in complex technical project development.  Step one is to put “UofT” in space.

As they say at Space Systems: To the stars, with friends!

The University of Toronto Aerospace Team’s mission is to develop the brightest minds from all disciplines and all walks of life at the University of Toronto.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about any of the content of this document, or if you’re interested in becoming a member of UTAT, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Stephen Dodge
Director of Business Development

Katie Gwozdecky
Space Systems Lead
Project Lead on HERON Mk II

Space is Hard


Space is only 100km away, right?  So why should it be so hard to get there?  For the cost of $500 bucks we could get a round trip flight to London and be at 40,000 feet for a few hours.  That’s nearly there! 

Alright.  40,000 feet is nowhere close to 100km.  And also there’s that whole thing of orbital speed. To get to orbit you need to go approximately 7.8 kilometers per second. That’s the kind of speed only large scale rockets get to.  Remember that flight to London?  Well now that 5,700 km trip only takes you 12 minutes.  You know Saturn V?  Remember the space race?  Probably not. We weren’t alive then either. But the point is the relics of that geopolitical dick measuring contest were really the only things to get going that fast.  Until recently, of course. Scientists have been developing potential new ways to reach space without the old-school combustion style “50% chance we just explode before liftoff” orbital insertion deal. Stuff like space elevators. Really cool stuff.  Imagine a big carbon nanotube wire swinging around the Earth with a huge counterweight way out past the moon on it.  Cool, huh? More recently scientists are talking about Launch Loops.  Pretty. Cool. Stuff.

So reaching space is tough.  We can all probably agree on that.  But let’s say we get the rocket and the fuel and the launch pad and the permits and all the expensive equipment.  Better let, let’s just get somebody to do it for us.  The real issue is affording it all. Only until the last few decades has space dropped in price.  Now that people are going to space other than to prove they can throw a thermo-nuclear warhead a long way stuff’s getting a lot better.  Really, space is getting more accessible on all accounts.  Back during the cold war the whole of space was dominated by very American or Russian male test pilots.  These days, thanks to international collaboration you’ve got astronauts from varied backgrounds going up all the time.  Some people going to space aren’t even astronauts nowadays!  A Canadian, Guy Laliberte included, paid several million dollars to fly to the International Space Station as a tourists.  What a world we live in.  Or, under, maybe.  So sooner or later everyone will be able to go to space probably for as much as a down payment on your mortgage.  No mortgage either?  Well suffice it to say it’s not super cheap but it’s not going to be a financial burden for the rest of your life.  Even Elon Musk of SpaceX claims to be sending two people to the Moon by 2019, and they already paid for the entire mission.  And that’s the Moon!  Speaking of going to the Moon. Ever wonder why we haven’t gone to Mars yet? 

So what’s this all about?  —You’re probably asking.  You got me.  There’s a spin.  See one of the best things about accessible space is the CubeSat standard. This company called CalPoly created a structure for small satellites to follow that lets them piggyback on one of those big space-race rockets carrying something heavy up to space. That means that today you can put a little satellite in space for around $45,000 a pound.

How incredibly affordable!  Yeah, it’s not great but it’s a step in the right direction.  The thing is space is the hardest thing we do these days, and also one of the most important.  Maybe like me you’ve felt like you want to leave the planet recently, for whatever reason.  If that’s the case we need to go to space as much as possible and do real science to make sure that we’re prepared to go to space in the future for cheap and safely.  There’s no point trying to escape Earth if you’ll never make it to Mars in the first place. 

So let’s make space a little closer.  Let’s do real science.

If you think that’s worthwhile, please support the UTAT Levy on March 14th.

Let's go to Space

No, seriously.  Space.  The final frontier and all. 

“Let’s Go to Space” isn’t a question.  We admit that.  It doesn’t fit in with the theme of all the rest of these descriptions of arguably-real-and-impactful science that we’ve been throwing up here.  But here’s the cold hard facts:

The Cold Hard Facts


243 years ago there was no such thing as aviation, then they launched the first hot air balloon

114 years ago there was no such thing as airplanes, then the Wright Brothers flew

98 years ago no one had ever crossed the Atlantic in anything but boats, then Alcock and Brown flew

81 years ago there was no such thing as commercial aviation, then Douglas made the DC-3

73 years ago jet aircraft were just a dream, then the Messerschmitt ME262 and the Gloster Meteor took to the skies above the second world war

70 years ago no one had ever surpassed the speed of sound, then the Bell X-1 did

68 years ago jet aircraft were nothing more than military implements, then the de Havilland Comet began ferrying passengers faster than ever before

60 years ago no man made object ever left the Earth, then Sputnik 1 did

56 years ago no human had ever left the Earth, then Yuri Gagarin did

48 years ago no human had ever set foot on another stellar body, then Apollo 11 landed on the Moon

46 years ago space stations were the product of science fiction, then the Salyut 1 became the first

46 years ago no man made object had ever orbited another body, then Mariner 9 reached Mars

42 years ago no man made object had ever survived on another world, then Viking 1 made contact from Mars

40 years ago no man made object had ever escaped our solar system, then Voyager 1 launched

19 years ago international cooperation in space was a ludicrous proposition, then the first part of the ISS reached orbit

5 years ago no man made object had still ever escaped our solar system, then Voyager 1 entered interstellar space one hundred and twenty times farther from us than the sun

20 years from now, or less, the first humans will walk on Mars

That’s the truth.  We’re really freaking close to doing something amazing.  And in the last few hundred years we’ve gone from the-highest-people-go-is-how-far-they-can-jump to freaking Mars.  But we’ve still got a long way to go.  Humans are going to space.  To Mars.  But we need to make sure we can survive that.  Space is dangerous, and we need to do real solid science to make sure we can survive the trip to Mars and further. 

So let’s make Mars a little closer.  Let’s test the limits of astronaut health.  Let’s take another step towards putting boots on the Martian ground. 

If you think that’s worthwhile, please support the UTAT Levy on March 14th.

Fungus in Space


There are quite a few very highly studied micro-organisms on the International Space Station.  You know our friend E. coli?  He’s up there, living it up.  Why, you may ask, are we giving E. coli the luxury treatment in space?  He’s never done anything for us!  Well there’s a lot of reasons to microbes.  The more we know about E. coli the more prejudice we can terminate him with.  And if any microbe poses a risk to astronauts, then that sounds like a pretty good reason to go all Arnold-Schwarzenegger-in-the-second-movie and terminate some human-hating ooze. 

There are literally billions of microscopic organisms.  You’ve got your yeasts, your bacteria, your viruses… All those things can reside within our bodies.  Some are bad but most are actually really good, if not crucial to proper bodily function.  Simply put, people are disgusting sacks of little microbes, and it’s a system that works.  But when you put all those little microbes in microgravity—the kind you get in the space station or on a Mars flight--those nice little microbes could completely lose their cool.  We don’t know for sure, but we know a lot of microbes react very poorly to changes in their environment.  If you started floating suddenly, wouldn’t you get a little miffed?  So these guys could very easily cause bad disease in humans. Let’s take one of our new best friends for example: Candida albicans. We call her C. albicans for short.   C. albicans is a cute little yeast that lives naturally in your gut.  Normally she’s perfectly docile.  And by normally we mean not-in-the-weird-confusing-vomit-causing-world-of-zero-g-space normal.  She’s pretty liable to flip if she entered micro gravity.

So what’s the issue?  Humans have been getting sick and better for years, right?  Like, a ton of years.  Our immune systems do a good job, don’t they?  Yes and no.  Here’s the thing.  Our immune systems are a collection of different types of cells.  Each has a job.  Each does a different function to get rid of infections and disease.  The champion of the immune system is a cell called a macrophage.  Those little scamps prevent and clear infection by totally surrounding foreign cells and taking ‘em out the-ending-of-Inglorious-Bastards-style.   Remember our friend C. albicans? Well, sometimes she wanders.  If a macrophage finds her out of place within the body, it will make sure she doesn’t cause any trouble. But what about in microgravity? What about the astronauts? Well, C. albicans cells within their bodies can go through some changes. When macrophages try to put a stop to wandering mutated C. albicans cells, the mutated C. albicans cells will fight back and win. And if enough macrophages die you can end up immunocompromised.  Not fantastic.

We already know astronauts become immunocompromised after prolonged period in microgravity. So if we find out that C. albicans doesn’t keep her cool in space, astronauts could be at serious risk.

Two morals:

1.        If you come across Calbicans in a dark alley in microgravity, give her a wide berth.

2.       We need to do real science and study how C. albicans actually acts in space so we can push the boundary of human exploration farther into the unknown.

If you think that’s worthwhile, please support the UTAT Levy on March 14th.

Hot, Hot Space


But yes, if you have even a summary understanding of astrophysics (shout out to the AST101 people in the crowd!) you probably think this is a stupid question.  Hear us out. 

Yeah, the average temperature of space is 4 degrees Kelvin.  Translation: real freaking cold.  Like 269 degrees below zero—negative 452 Fahrenheit for all the Americans and old people in the crowd—which is very, very cold. Nearly all molecular motion has stopped cold.  You-don’t-get-that-sort-of-thing-on-Earth cold.  We know. Space can get real damn cold.  But do you know how hot it can get in space? 

Have you ever stood outside on a cloudless summer day in downtown Toronto?  Somewhere with a lot of glass buildings.  Think the most gaudy area in the financial district.  You ever just stood there in the sun?  It’s uncomfortable.  Not only do you have the sun but you have that weird corrugated glass on the RBC building putting an extra eight suns on you too.  Stars—you better sit down this one’s a real shock—are hot. 

Now we’ve got it pretty good on Earth. The atmosphere protects us from the most dramatic infra-red waves.  But in space the gloves are off.  You see the movie Goon?  Neither have we but imagine a big guy from the Bostin Bruins beating the pulp out of you.  That’s what the sun does to stuff in space, but with light and deadly radiation.  When a satellite is in orbit we are constantly just taking punch after punch of that stellar beat-down because we need the sun for solar power.  It’s a real Catch 22.  A satellite won’t work in the dark for long, but it will burn to bits in the light.  The ISS orbits the planet more than 15 times a day, and every time it is exposed to the sun it’s surface is liable to heat to 80 degrees.  That’s 176 Fahrenheit for the Americans keeping score at home, and sorry about the hockey references.  Anyhow, that’s hot, and the ISS isn’t even in the sun for very long at any time.   

So how do we stop that from happening?  Well at UTAT we have a team of people who just solve issues relating to the temperature of our satellite.  They’re a pretty fun crowd.  How do other people deal with it?  Well, a lot of how hot you could get in space depends on what colour your satellite is.  A white satellite reflects the majority of visible light and stays a little cooler.  A black satellite absorbs it all.  Let’s just say you shouldn’t paint your satellite black.  Many spacecraft these days have multi-layer insulation that protects their equipment from excessive radiative heat loss and reflects a significant amount of incoming radiation. You know that gold stuff wrapped all around the Kepler Telescope?  No?  Check this out.  That stuff lets Kepler’s temperature be adjusted in orders of degrees.

So long story short space is hot, but we’ve got a team working on cooling off our adorable little CubeSat.  They’re making it possible for our satellite to survive in space, but we still have a monumental task in getting it there. 

If you think launching the first student-designed student-built satellite sounds worthwhile, please support the UTAT Levy on March 14th.

Dial Up to Space


Satellite internet.  Haven’t heard that in a while.  Almost as ancient as dial-up if you live in a big city or at University.  9/10 times you’re on wifi, right?  WiFi is king.  WiFi is everywhere.  Have you ever used Eduroam?  It’s awesome.  At nearly any university you can log into free and unlimited wifi just because you’re a student at a different university potentially thousands of miles away.  At UTAT we’re wifi addicts too.  We sure as hell aren’t uploading engine test videos on cellular data, trust me.  Ain’t nobody around here with the gold cell phone package.  No way.  We’re the types who use the TTC free wifi at every station and then loiter a little while before we exit just to send one more emoji—a quick aside to UTAT design team members: dear god. Stop it with the emojis. 

So when connectivity is so important, and when we want to put a satellite in space, how are we supposed to let that little rascal surf the internet?  We can confirm, without a doubt, that the CSA does not provide free internet in space regardless of whether or not we can get Heron Mk II a utoronto email address. 

So we need to make sure that our friend Heron Mk II has a good connection anyways.  A lot of challenges exist here.  Two key ones are:

On a satellite the size of your average graduated ruler (we won’t have none of those uneducated rulers in our lab) how do you generate enough signal to reliably send data to Earth?

When your satellite is orbiting the planet and could be nearly anywhere in the sky at a given time how are you supposed to find it to send a signal back? 

Well these problems have been solved by smarter people than us.  We’re not ashamed to admit that.  Like most great scientists (which we’re not), we stand on the shoulders of giants in our field.  And while the wifi we all use at school is the product of the telco-wars which rage beneath the streets in fiber optic cables across Canada, there’s actually a surprising number of companies who sit high above this conflict between and rather opt supply internet from space.  Yay for private industry in space!

Their solution is to use geosynchronous orbit.  Colloquially: really freaking far.  35,786 kilometers far.  Now that’s not Moon far.  But it’s far.  Especially when you consider that the ISS orbits between 330 and 435 kilometers up and our old friend the Hubble Space Telescope is only a little higher between 539 and 543 kilometers up.  See the issue with geosynchronous orbit is 35,000 kilometers away from Earth the speed of light starts to matter.  So whereas the satellite internet providers have solved the communication problem by putting the satellite above a single point at all times they’ve necessarily slowed their service with a 0.11 second light travel time.  Imagine trying to log into Blackboard with that ping.  It just wouldn’t work. 

So we’ve opted to put our satellite a lot closer.  Heron Mk II will orbit at the same height as the ISS meaning we’ll be able to track it and it’s little receiver will be able to properly hail our ground station.  But putting it closer means it has to orbit a lot faster.  Problem 3, is that with a low orbit we’ll only get a short window to communicatea few times a day. 

15 times, to be exact, and we’ll get good data, but we’ll there will have to be a few first year students up at ungodly hours to get it.  These are sacrifices we’re willing to make.

If you like making frosh suffer, or think doing real science in space is a worthwhile endeavor, support the UTAT Levy on March 14th.

ISS is Awesome


Rather we’d like to learn you some things.  The ISS is awesome.  Make no mistake.  Five space agencies around the world cooperate every day to make sure it runs properly.  NASA in the US, Roscosmos in Russia, JAXA in Japan, the ESA in Europe, and the CSA in Canada all contribute to scientific discovery aboard the station, and have since 1998. 

The ISS weighs 925,000 lbs.  Think about that.  925,000 lbs orbiting the planet 15 times a day traveling at 7.66 kilometers per second.  It takes 92 minutes to travel around the globe. 

Think about that for a minute and watch the videos below, and if you don’t think they’re cool, or if for some reason you don’t find this all incredibly interesting, email and tell us why.  We’ll try to change your mind. 



Tube Testing


If you read the fungus page then you know that we have a great amount of respect for C. albicans and as such we want to poke it and prod it in a tiny lab in orbit.  Now, if you gave that page very much thought then you’d see an issue that we’re probably going to have to address.  While we’re pretty much ready to go to build a tiny lab to do tiny science on tiny fungus, we aren’t sure of the best tiny way to do that tiny science.  We’re working two options right now.  Either we can do it remotely with tiny pistons and tiny valves, or we can hire some tiny scientists and put them in tiny space suits and send them up with the tiny satellite to do the science for us.

Big problem is so far we haven’t found enough tiny scientists to work with us.  And let’s not even go into the fact that tiny scientists are very well unionized. It would be very expensive to send them to space.  And even then, we also don’t know that there is even such a thing as any scientists THAT tiny.  The payload section of Heron Mk II is only 10 x 10 x 10 centimetres.  That’s just simply not enough space for the tiny scientists’ office Christmas Party. 

So option one seems like the better.  And it’s pretty complex to build tiny pistons and tiny valves but at least tiny mechanical parts aren’t unionized. 

But how do we do it?  Well it all depends on how fluids act in microgravity.  Our experiment is almost entirely based on mixing different chemical cocktails and flooding the fungus with those.  And these aren’t the cocktails served at the tiny scientist office Christmas party that Jeff made up on the spot.  This is some potent, important-to-mix-accurately-the-first-time, stuff. 

So how does fluid behave in microgravity?  Weirdly. Experiments done in orbit or in ground-based parabolic flight research labs have shown that liquids tend to stay in spheres when released in zero-g.  Did you ever see the video of Chris Hadfield wringing out a towel on the ISS?  No?  Here’s a link.  Because of that little experiment we know it’s not only that aqueous solutions have strong bonds making them form spheres and stick to things, but also that surface tension is a shockingly strong force.

Also, this is a total aside, but check out Commander Hadfield’s watch during that video.  It’s nuts.

Back to the tiny science.  Knowing how water behaves we can easily see that filling tiny test tubes through any traditional terrestrial method would be silly.  We’d just get a wet test tube filled with air. So we looked to NASA who—somehow with basically no funding—cooked up a new method of doing test-tube based experimentation in space.  It’s this thing called a Group Activation Pack (GAP) Fluid Processing Module. The GAP is a bunch of tiny chambers in a wafer that are filled on the ground with whatever is needed for an experiment.   In space the fluids in the tiny chambers can be mixed within their tiny tubes with the use of tiny plungers.

The GAP is great for two reasons.  Primarily, it can be activated at any time so for remote experiments all it needs is an activation signal.  And second, it’s completely sealed, meaning dangerous biological agents can’t escape during experimentation. So really, even with the remote method we could still safely send tiny astronauts and tiny scientists into space so they can have a new venue for that tiny office Christmas party this year. 

If you know any tiny scientists who we can send to space for cheap, please let us know. And if you think doing tiny science to benefit the exploration and development of space is a good idea, please support the UTAT Levy on March 14th.

All that's great, but how do I vote?

Glad you asked.

On March 14th go to (link removed) to vote.   Voting is open 24 hours a day through to March 16th at 6:30 PM.  

Voting on this referendum is open to undergraduate students at the St. George campus. You'll need to log in with your UTORid to cast your ballot.

For more information on voting check out

And for information on elections policy see

 The banner featured for the week following the election at

The banner featured for the week following the election at