Students fly high in first Canadian microgravity research competition for students

- Ottawa, Ontario

Youth from across Canada got a helping hand to explore their aerospace research skills as they took flight over Ottawa airspace in July 2017 in the first Canadian microgravity research competition for students.

Students from universities across Canada flew their science experiments in microgravity for the first Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge (CAN-RGX).

The Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge (CAN-RGX) is a competition for Canadian post-secondary students run by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) Canada in collaboration with the Government of Canada. Teams competed to design and test a small science experiment on board the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Falcon 20, a specially modified jet capable of simulating Lunar, Martian and microgravity conditions.

In fall 2016, four final experiment proposals were chosen from a pool of submissions. The winning teams spent half a year building their projects, with design guidance from experts at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the NRC. The final projects were tested on flights during the week of July 24, 2017 at the NRC's Flight Research Lab beside the Ottawa International Airport.

"The overwhelming interest for this competition from students across Canada is a true testament to the need for increased space activities and opportunities in our country. SEDS-Canada is very pleased to leverage the amazing young talent found within our borders and we hope CAN-RGX will open many doors for the student teams who participated this year," said Roxy Fournier, Research Projects Manager, SEDS-Canada.

Student teams from the University of Alberta, Carleton University, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Toronto studied the effects of reduced gravity on 3D printing materials, dust contamination, the dynamics of mineral screening and the coiling of liquids. They also took part in the NRC' s motion sickness research on the flight, while the CSA demonstrated an astronaut bio-monitoring system.

"The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is committed to engaging students in STEM activities. Collaborative initiatives such as CAN-RGX nurture the development of the next generation of space researchers," said Steeve Montminy, Technology Development Officer with CSA. "They enable students to gain hands-on experience and acquire the skills needed to thrive in the space sector. Projects like CAN-RGX offer students the opportunity to take part in an end-to-end space mission experience and foster a culture of innovation, creativity and science literacy."

Carleton University and the University of Saskatchewan students and NRC's flight test engineer prepare experiments to fly in the Falcon 20 research jet.

The pioneering CAN-RGX project is the first of many microgravity research test campaigns aboard the Falcon 20 under a new five-year Interdepartmental Memorandum of Understanding between the NRC and CSA. The agreement, which took effect in April, continues the two organizations' long history of collaboration in microgravity research.

"Given the NRC's history in helping train Canada's astronauts and our contribution in providing a key research platform via the Falcon 20 for microgravity research, we are very proud to work with SEDS-Canada and the Canadian Space Agency to help develop the next generation of space innovators," said Jerzy Komorowski, Director General, Aerospace Research Centre, NRC.

The winning teams presented their results at a closing gala held at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. The guest of honour, former Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk, presented an inspiring speech to the students about his time as an astronaut.

Next up, a call for proposals for the 2018 competition will be released by SEDS-Canada to all post-secondary students across Canada in October this year.

The CAN-RGX project was supported through the NRC's Flight Research Lab.

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