Pupils from a school in Forest make a satellite in the shape of a can: “We all wanted to participate and especially attend the launch”

Mahault, Chloé, Hugo, Laura, Erwann and Asmae pressed the orange Alert us button to tell us about the science project they’ve been working on for several months. These 5 high school students from the Institut Saint-Ursule de Forest are taking part in CANSAT BELGIUM, a scientific competition in which they have to create a satellite in the form of a 33 cl can. They have already managed to pass the semi-finals and during the finals their satellite is propelled in a mini-rocket. The winning team will represent Belgium at the European CANSAT competition.

“We are a team of six young science enthusiasts. We are participating in the CANSAT adventure, a science competition. The name of our team is AstroCan. We would like to talk about us if possible.” Mahault, Chloé, Hugo, Laura, Erwann and Asmae, all 16 years old, pressed the orange Alert us button to tell us about the science project they’ve been working on for several months.

These students of 5and secondary school of the Institut Saint-Ursule de Forest takes part in CANSAT BELGIUM, a scientific competition organized by Wallonia, the Brussels Region and the European Agency for Space Educational Resources ESERO Belgium. The goal of this project? To stimulate vocations to scientific and technical careers among young people”explains Elise Munoz-Torres, organizer of the CANSAT BELGIUM contest for Wallonia.


Five members of AstroCan besides Dirk Frimout (DR)

The idea is indeed to wake up young people of 5 yearsand and 6and secondary to science through the realization of a science project in the field of space. “It’s about building their own satellite (sat) in the form of a 33 cl can (can) and flying it on a rocket”mentions the Walloon organizer of the competition.

We had to create a satellite in the shape of a can and complete two missions

Launched in 2012, this competition attracts more and more young people from all schools in Belgium every year. Less than 15 teams registered during the first editions. But this figure quickly increased to more than 30 registrations today. “For this 2021-2022 edition of CANSAT BELGIUM, we received 33 applications, all of which were selected after the selection based on the eligibility criteria”notes Elise Munoz-Torres.

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The can, modeled on software and then printed in 3D

Registrations are most numerous in the Brussels Region. 19 teams in total and among them our 6 students from the Institut Saint-Ursule de Forest. They were informed of the project through the school in September 2021. “Our physics teacher took the time to introduce this competition to us in a very dynamic and enthusiastic way.explains Chloé, one of the members of the group. She really likes this project but couldn’t participate in it last year because of the Covid. So she was super excited to share that again and it made a lot of students want it.” The students were quickly motivated by the challenge and the AstroCan team was formed. “We all wanted to participate, and most importantly attend the launch”, they rejoice. But before attending this highly anticipated launch, CANSAT’s requirements had to be met. “We had to create a satellite that was shaped like a can and complete two missions”the members of AstroCan develop.

Primary and Secondary Missions

The first mission – called primary mission – is mandatory and identical to all teams participating in the competition. This includes taking temperature and atmospheric pressure data and sending it to a ground station in real time. It is then necessary to carefully land the satellite in the form of a can. “Our can is placed in a rocket and sent to a height of 1 km. When the rocket reaches this height, the different cans are placed in it and the cans have to remove their parachute”, says Chloe. The students must make this famous parachute themselves and figure out how to open it to provide a controlled landing. “The can has to respect a certain speed while descending and it will record the data while descending”continues the 16-year-old girl.

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Five of the six AstroCan team members (DR)

In addition to this first mission, which is already very technical, the participants are also subjected to a secondary mission, specific to each team. Indeed, the students have to imagine an additional scientific goal. “We had the idea of ​​​​reproducing an echo from a distance. We were inspired by the problems of astronauts. For example, we follow Thomas Pesquet on Instagram”, Chloe develops. According to them, it is important to demonstrate that it is possible to be treated remotely in the event of illness. “Our teacher participated in this competition for several years and she told us that she had never come across projects like this before, that it was extraordinary”she slips confidently.

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The parachute and the device for performing remote ultrasound (DR)

To carry out their project, the classmates meet for lunch three times a week. “It’s a project that requires a lot of work.Chloe admits. We have to act as quickly as possible because we have to file several reports and delays are not allowed.” Since October, the 6 candidates have been working hard on this mission, especially to be ready for the semi-finals of the competition. “We had to show globally what we’ve done so far, re-explain our mission, create a PowerPoint… We had to summarize our project as best we could in 5 minutes.”

It was a relief when we went, especially as we met teams with a very good level

The event took place on March 23 at the ULB. “When our turn came, we weren’t under that much pressure.she says. We were ready, but I think we were mostly worried about the questions that might be asked, afraid of not understanding it or not knowing how to answer it because we hadn’t thought of it…” It must be said that the entire competition takes place in English, from the oral presentation to the writing of reports, to discussions with members and professionals. “We are all 6 in immersion so the language is not the hardest”admits the student.

During this semi-final, the professional jury selected the 24 best teams and our student scientists from Brussels were given the opportunity to continue the adventure. “It was a relief, especially because we met teams with a really good level. Really, we were relieved because we had to wait all day to find out if we passed or not. But I think we’re looking good after all come, we couldn’t not pass.”

Even though the members of AstroCan say they would like to continue the adventure, Chloé confides to all of us that she has no intention of winning the competition in May. “In our team there are members for whom it is really important to win. And for others it is more to enrich themselves, to discover new people, to practice the language… Me, my goal is to finish but not necessarily to win. I want to succeed in launch and succeed in making the graphs with the data that we are going to collect.”

Last straight line for AstroCan

It is now the last straight line for our budding scientists. “We’re doing the final radio testing to collect the data. We’re getting to the end and we’re cleaning everything up. We still have testing to put all the components into the modeled can, but hey, that’s a bit technical”she jokes.

The grand final of the Belgian competition will take place at the beginning of May. It’s a bit “the pinnacle of competition”, as Elise Munoz-Torres defines it. The event will be spread over 3 days and will take place at the military base Elsenborn, in the province of Liège.

Only one team will be crowned the winner based on its performance during the project, the flight of its satellite and the final result. “The winning team will have the privilege of representing Belgium at the European CANSAT competition organized by the European Space Agency”, the organizer of the contest for Wallonia rejoices. CANSAT BELGIUM is indeed the result of a European competition launched in 2010 by the European Space Agency (ESA). The European competition will take place from 20 to 25 June 2022 in one of the countries of the European Union. “It would be nice to achieve this, but I think it must be difficult to manage, especially during exams”notes the student of the Saint-Ursule de Forest Institute. “It’s not what I’m aiming for, but if we’re first, I’m super happy too”she decides.

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