Our first mission to explore the life in clouds
The aim of our project is proving that microbes exist at high altitudes - more specifically 1-2 km into our troposphere. We want to build a satellite that is able to collect air samples from high altitudes. These samples would be then filtered in order to get rid of any contaminants leaving only the desired microbes in between the filters. Additionally, the results of our experiment, apart from promoting the idea that life is possible on other planets than Earth, could help understand better the life cycle of bacteria here on Earth. Painting a big picture of growth and needs of simple microbiological organisms could help us understand how to fight the harmful ones and how to effectively make use of neutral or beneficial organisms.
The Air Thief team consists of 5 members from Akademeia High School. We formed a team as we believed the CanSat competition is a one-time experience that will allow us to polish our skills as well as gain newfound skills from the process. We came up with the idea of creating the Air Thief - a satellite that would be able to collect air from an altitude of 2km, which can be later sampled for microbes. Throughout the competition, we have brainstormed how we will achieve this, as well as have gained partners such as Adamed, Cloudferro, JLCPCB, CubicInch and Thorium Space Technology, who see great potential in our work and are willing to support us with their resources.
Why is this an innovative idea?
There are many opportunities for patenting ideas, meaning this is definitely an area for business. As an example, the recent mission exploring life on Venus, which would require a satellite that would be able to collect microorganisms from the atmosphere.
Our team was inspired by the spotlight of relevancy that Covid-19 had on virology and the research that goes in it. Moreover, we were also motivated by the recent news that scientists found microbes on Venus. We then realized that this region of research has huge potential and it answers many of our questions.
What inspired us?
What is Cansat?
The medium through which we want to accomplish our mission is the CanSat competition - a competition organized by the European Space Agency with the goal of building a real satellite within the volume of a soft drink can. This competition takes place every year and is held to very high standards as initially, over 80 teams per country participate in the challenge.
Recent studies showed that living microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi and yeasts, are present in the atmospheric water phase (fog and clouds) and their role in chemical processes may have been underestimated. At the interface between atmospheric science and microbiology, information about this field of science suffers from the fact that not all recent findings are efficiently conveyed to both scientific communities (via Atmospheric Research 2010). Currently, there exists no simple, cost-effective method accessible to students that would allow the quantification of the microorganisms in our atmosphere. In our project, we propose and later test a system enabling the collection and rough quantitative analysis of microbes, without the need for expensive lab techniques such as electron microscopy.
Why are we assuming microbes exist at such a high altitude?
The Air Thief
The main core of the satellite is designed using Fusion 360. We decided to collaborate with Cubic Inch to use their expertise and technologically advanced tools to print our core of the satellite. The company uses the Multi Jet Fusion technology provided by HP. The materials used by such a printer is the Polyamide PA12 which is a strong and durable material, therefore our satellite and its components will be protected when it falls to the ground after the fall.
The general mission of any cansat is to measure the temperature and pressure at a given altitude. We will use an Adafruit temperature and pressure sensor and connected to a Raspberry PI Zero micro-controller, so that it can be measured. From that point onwards, the data will be transmitted via a signal to a ground station.
The core of our secondary mission - the mission dedicated only to the Air Thief - will be the NW Air Pump which will be used to push air from a high altitude through a filter. We will use 3 lithium-ion 750 mAh battery and the voltage will be stepped down for the other components. To turn on the pump, a relay will be used for safety in case of a short in the motor.
(on the right, you can see the CAD of our cansat)
One of our main objectives is to make project an open-source - this means we want all of our work to be available online to potentially benefit similar projects in the future. Moreover, it makes following our project easier than ever. Below you will be able to view and download all of our projects. This is why we have created a GitHub page.
Our Youtube Channel
Alongside the Github page, we are also creating a youtube page with instructional videos that we will be uploading weekly, conducted by members of our team. Here is our first video, introducing our goal and the team:
We believe that the educational value of our mission is important for every demographic, therefore our project will be shared on an open-source platform, giving an insight into our achievements to outsiders interested in the mission.
Furthermore, we are planning on conducting numerous webinars regarding the organization of a project like ours as well as how to execute it. Additionally, we are planning on creating short instructional videos covering the mechanical design of our satellite, which we believe might be beneficial for students aspiring to participate in the CanSat competition or for anyone interested in building their own satellite. Air Thief is also open to giving lectures to younger students helping them to understand the basics of building a satellite, conducting meaningful experiments and presenting the idea behind the CanSat competition. Those lectures could be conducted in both English and Polish.