New international partnership launches Western into space

As a child, Jayshri Sabarinathan looked to the heavens most nights from her family’s apartment terrace using her prized possession – a telescope – desperate to catch a glimpse of the infamous Halley’s comet zooming though the sky.

Fast forward 34 years and a new landmark partnership announced Wednesday by Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space) presents Sabarinathan with a chance of a lifetime – a rocket launch for her own out-of-this-world project.

During a virtual Zoom announcement, Western signed a game-changing memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the MILO Institute, a non-profit research collaboration led by Arizona State University supported by Lockheed Martin and its subsidiary GEOshare.


As part of the agreement, Sabarinathan and her Western Space collaborators will contribute a one-unit CubeSat (a square-shaped miniature satellite roughly the size of a Rubik’s cube) to a MILO Institute and University of Texas at El Paso flight mission planned for June 2021 – an aggressive timeline, she admits, but that just adds to the excitement.

“I’m very excited about the MoU and this collaboration between the MILO Institute and Western. It has already proved very beneficial to us and has resulted in a tremendous opportunity for Western to be part of a CubeSat mission next summer,” said Sabarinathan, engineering professor and Western Space associate director (training).

For the past two years, Sabarinathan and her team have been designing, developing and constructing a CubeSat with research partners at Nunavut Arctic College and Canadensys Aerospace Corporation, scheduled for launch in 2022. Ukpik-1, a two-unit CubeSat project outfitted with 360-degree imaging VR cameras and funded by the Canadian Space Agency, will fly to the International Space Station in two years as part of a European Space Agency mission. Next summer’s ‘bonus’ launch provides the team with an unexpected – but most-opportune – test run for its endeavour.


While the CubeSat mission is a prime example of the immediate returns today’s MoU with MILO presents, Western Space director Gordon “Oz” Osinski says the partnership provides countless opportunities for the institute to achieve its vision of launching Western into space and bringing space down to Earth for the benefit of all Canadians.

“This is just the start of a long-term relationship between our new Western Space institute and the MILO Institute,” said Osinski, during the MoU signing. “Arizona State is the premier university in the world for earth and space exploration research and Lockheed Martin is one the biggest space companies on the planet. They’re embarking on a series of ambitious asteroid and Moon missions and we’re excited to help them find those opportunities, train students and participate in future space explorations.”

Osinski teased the next big project underway with MILO is an upcoming space mission to the Moon’s surface, which will include a robotic instrument built in Canada by Western engineers and space scientists. There are also plans for a series of missions to study near-Earth asteroids.

“We’re proud of the integrated research and training activities led by Western Space,” said Western vice-president (research) Lesley Rigg, who participated in the virtual announcement. “We’re also thrilled that the MILO Institute has identified Western as a strategic Canadian partner. Our community is excited to send hardware to the Moon, and to find new ways to observe our own planet.”

Western astronomy professor Sarah Gallagher, a leading expert in galaxies and black holes, represented the Canadian Space Agency for the MoU signing in her role as scientific advisor to the president.

“The agreement between Western University and the MILO Institute can open many opportunities for our next generation of space scientists and inspire younger students to consider careers in space science and advance Canadian contributions to world’s scientific community,” said Gallagher.

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