Eco-entrepreneurs are engineering a future in space

Student space team spawns commercial satellite company

UAlberta engineers are driven to achieve the impossible. Mechanical engineering graduates Chris Robson and Kurtis Broda are part of a team that has launched a private space company.

A group of current and former students have launched a space company dedicated to observing the Earth in new ways. These students were driven to take the risk, to innovate, and to find radical solutions to modern problems.

Chris Robson and Kurtis Broda both hold master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Alberta and are the founding partners of Wyvern, along with astrophysics graduate Kristen Cote and mechanical engineering undergrad Callie Lissinna. 

Robson was struck by the mysteries of the cosmos early in his engineering career, while working at an oil and gas company during an engineering co-op job placement.

“I was watching the space shuttle launch on one of my breaks. It was the first time I had ever watched a rocket launch and it just struck me,” he said. “It lit something inside of me. My soul was on fire.”

His innate desire to explore the unknown and his experience designing cubes satellites with the AlbertaSat team would perfectly match the research, specialities, and environmental-mindedness of his friend, Broda. 

Broda, driven by his passion for the environment, had developed expertise in creating instruments to measure the effects of climate change.

“During my master’s I became really passionate about scientific instrumentation and trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, so when Chris said, ‘Hey, do you want to start a space company where we could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the world a better place?’ I said, ‘Let’s do this.’ I was really struck by that opportunity.”

Teaming up and forming Wyvern, Broda and Robson are designing a cube satellite which, carrying new technology, will allow them to observe the Earth in ways never before visualized by humankind. 

By equipping a satellite with a hyperspectral camera, Robson, Broda, Cote and Lissina aim to make it possible for humanity to watch the Earth breathe. 

Hyperspectral imaging is the process by which spectral (light) information can be gathered for each and every pixel within an image. The information can then be analyzed to determine the material, density, and chemical composition of anything in the camera’s view. 

Robson says the colour resolution of the camera Wyvern is designing is so high that distinguishing one species of tree from another from their space-based platform will be possible. 

The applications are wide-ranging. Farmers could use the technology to monitor crops. The imaging capabilities would allow them to understand nutrient levels in soil and detect invasive weeds or the presence of pests. 

Heavy industries like mining could monitor their impact on the environment.

“There are applications in agriculture in order to optimize crop growth, and also in industries like mining, we will be able to monitor the processes to try to make them more efficient, and ultimately more green,” Broda said. 

Wyvern’s development of the proprietary technology necessary to provide daily measurements of the Earth’s atmospheric content makes them an ideal recipient of the Government of Alberta’s GreenSTEM initiative by providing funding and support to clean-technology company creation. With the financial support of GreenSTEM, will help build the future of the province.

Broda says the GreenSTEM funding will be used for research and development of Wyvern’s satellite, and to help the company get to the next level by acquiring investor funding.

At Wyvern, Broda, Robson, Lissinna and Cote are doing more than pushing the boundaries of technology, they are breaking them. 

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