RMC’s Audimus satellite mission will listen in on the Arctic

Fourth-year RMC Officer Cadet Tejasri Vishwak “Vish” Turaga is the Mission Outreach Lead who spoke to the media after the presentation. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

An enthusiastic audience gathered Thursday, Apr. 4, 2024, for the grand unveiling of the Royal Military College’s (RMC) first ever satellite mission, Audimus

The presentation at RMC’s Currie Hall explained that the Audimus mission aims to demonstrate the relay of acoustic data from hydrophones placed in the Canadian Arctic via satellite to the RMC ground station. The ability to transfer this type of data could eventually increase Canada’s awareness of the Arctic domain and facilitate further scientific exploration of Northern ecosystems.

Fourth-year RMC Officer Cadet Tejasri Vishwak “Vish” Turaga, the Mission Outreach Lead, spoke to the media after the presentation. He said ‘audimus’ means ‘we listen’ in Latin.

The mission is a technological demonstration of RMC’s capabilities to launch a CubeSat, a small satellite Turaga described as “way smaller than the ones that the Canadian Space Agency designs.” 

According to the Canadian Space Agency, a CubeSat is a cube-shaped miniature satellite (10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm — roughly the size of a Rubik’s cube) weighing about 1 kilogram. It can be used alone (one unit) or in groups of multiple units (a maximum of 24 units).

The mission’s goal is to have an acoustic sensor in the Arctic transmit acoustic information to the Audimus CubeSat in orbit, explained Turaga. “This information makes a passage from the Arctic to the CubeSat in outer space and then back down to RMC. And this information aims to tell us what’s happening in the Arctic that day. This can mean the passage of marine life, the passage of marine vessels, the movement of ice, or ice dynamics.”

“We want to show that we can do this as an institution,” Turaga continued. “In the future, we’d like to launch more CubeSats and create a constellation. Then this information can be used to track marine life, marine vessels, and ice dynamics to ensure that we better understand what’s going on around the Arctic.”

“The reason it’s so important,” he said, “is that we’re going to be placing an acoustic sensor in a place called the Northwest Passage, specifically Lancaster Sound. This area remains relatively ice-free all year long, allowing for movement of marine vessels and marine life all year round.” 

The presentation focused on Audimus’s ecological applications, but the mission’s success will also serve as an important step towards modern strategic military monitoring of the Arctic. 

According to a thesis submitted to the Division of Graduate Studies of the Royal Military College of Canada in January 2023 by Stefan C. Tarla, ”the melting of Arctic sea ice is making the Canadian Arctic more navigable… An increasingly accessible Arctic is of great interest to many foreign countries looking to take advantage of untapped natural resources and alternative shipping lanes. This presents a pressing national security concern for Canada.”

Tarla’s dissertation goes on to say that “significant interest in this concept has allowed for the development of the Audimus mission, a satellite mission led by the Royal Military College of Canada sponsored by Defence Research and Development Canada as part of the Canadian Space Agency CubeSats Initiative in Canada for STEM [CUBICS] … to demonstrate the feasibility of transmitting acoustic data from a hydrophone to a satellite.”

Through the CUBICS initiative, ten other non-military post-secondary institutions’ teams are being funded to participate in similar projects.

For the RMC students, this real-world mission has been interwoven into their curriculum. Turaga noted, “In order for us to graduate with an Honours Thesis Space Science Degree, this is part of our career when we have to do this, which is very unique compared to other universities where they have to undertake this on their own as part of a club or a side project.”

The team’s presentations of its Audimus mission to the CSA and DRDC are unique experiences for undergraduate students. Turaga was enthusiastic, saying, “We’ve been able to partner with other organizations to design this satellite, which is a real-world experience we wouldn’t get anywhere else.” 

The mission patch. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Turaga said his Audimus experience has been particularly thrilling because he immigrated to Canada at the age of 12. He said, “I would have never thought that 12 years later, I’d be standing at RMC, designing a cube satellite that’ll eventually go into space in the next two years. So what’s really unique for me is that I’ve been given the opportunity to design something I would have never been able to design outside of RMC.”

Audimus is a multi-year project, Turaga noted. “We’ve got eight dedicated undergraduate students working on this throughout the year, and we’ve got two dedicated graduate students who are also part of the military. And then we’ve got dedicated faculty, and we’ve involved RMC’s extracurricular clubs such as the Air and Space Club.”

Thursday’s presentation was intended to stimulate interest among students and be a learning opportunity for students involved in CUBICS to develop their communication skills, such as the ability to explain complex concepts to different audiences.

As for when the mission will officially be put in motion, Turaga said the CubeSat will be launched at a time to be determined in 2026. “By September 2025, it’ll be the last moment where we can physically touch the CubeSat, because that’s when it’ll be integrated with the rocket that sends it up.”

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