Technology Demonstrator Satellite

To verify the core components of the satellites for the Thunderbird mission a technology demonstrator is being built which is also competing in the CSDC. This demonstrator satellite is a 3u CubeSat to comply with CSDC rules and allow for the lowest possible launch costs while maintaining full functionality.

In respect and acknowledgment of the close relationship between the University of British Columbia and the native Musqueam people, the UBC Orbit team decided to name our satellite after the Musqueam Thunderbird. This initiative is further exemplified in our mission logo, a result of collaboration between YeonHee Kim and the well known Musqueam artist Susan Point.


The design

The main parts of the Thunderbird technology demonstrator satellite

The main components of the Thunderbird technology demonstrator satellite

To accomplish our ambitious mission we have designed our satellite to include numerous advanced technologies:

  • Multi camera system

The use of multiple cameras arranged into specific arrays allows to have an amazing 90 degree field of view over 21000 pixels wide. This permits us to have rapid update of coverage of all spots on Earth, while maintaining an impressive 50x50m per pixel resolution. These cameras have also been modified to receive near-infrared wavelengths as well as the standard visible spectrum. This is particularly useful for analyzing the health of plants which utilize different amounts of visible and near-infrared wavelengths.

  • Intelligent smoke identification algorithm

    Demonstration of the preliminary smoke recognition on NASA MODIS data

Once our cameras capture a given spot on Earth, our satellite’s powerful on-board computer, similar to those found in advanced smartphones, utilizes an intelligent algorithm based on neural networks to identify areas that contain smoke, and from their deduce likely fire locations.

  • Trillium radiation resistant processor

The Trillium radiation resistant processor is an experimental circuit and software combination which allows for the hardening of electronics against the effects of radiation without the high costs and long development times normally associated with this.

  • Deployable solar panels

To power all these systems our satellite uses a pair of deployable solar panels that also double as a protective cover for our cameras during launch. This allows us to maintain a very high level of functionality in a small package.


In order to get all our image data down, the Tunderbird satellite carries an experimental 5.8GHz High Speed Beam Steerable Communication Transponder. This allows for all image data to be downlinked to Earth. We also have a standard 435MHz radio to get the essential data down to Earth should the HSBSCT encounter an error.

Satellite resolution

Relative image resolution predicted to be observed by our satellite overlaid onto a Google Earth image of Vancouver


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