NotesCuberider was founded in 2015 by two undergraduate engineering students, Solange Cunin and Sebastian Chaoui. They were prompted by the sharp drop-off in interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects which has been observed over the last few years, particularly with early high school students, and decided to create a program which would help reinspire students' interest in science.
Cunin grew up on a remote property 50km outside Grafton, in regional New South Wales, and her family lived off the grid for the first few years of her life. Because of the remote location she grew up with spectacular views of the sky. She got her first telescope aged 8 and decided at a young age that she wanted to have a career as an astrophysicist. As a child she was expected to help out with the work on the farm, and was often found using power tools and building things. It was this ability that caused her to decide on a career in aerospace engineering instead of astrophysics, as she felt it best combined her skills and interests.
Cunin's early education was at a school of less than 30 students. Following this she attended a large public high school in South Grafton, and later spent part of her education at Sydney Girls High School. She notes that science was not always her favourite subject, but that she persevered with it, because she knew she would need science as a prerequisite to a degree in aerospace. In 2011 she began her degree in aerospace engineering and mathematics. It was during the early part of her degree that she became aware of the STEM crisis in Australia. After watching the live steaming of a SpaceX rocket launch, she had the realisation that space was a topic which is universally inspiring, and could be used as a vehicle to promote interest and understanding of STEM subjects in school.
Chaoui grew up in Mt Druitt, a suburb in Western Sydney, and dreamed of becoming an astronaut since he was a child. He graduated from high school but didn't get the marks to go straight into an Aerospace Engineering degree, so instead chose to enrol in Mechatronics (a combination of mechanical and electrical engineering) at UTS. Throughout his degree Chaoui worked on various extra-curricular space projects, which included developing experiments and satellite components for major universities and top aerospace companies. Many of these activities were completed alongside Cunin, whom he had met interning at a space company. In 2013, disheartened by the lack of options for careers in the space industry he decided to start his first space start-up. Although this venture ultimately failed, Chaoui remained inspired about being involved in the space industry. Soon after, Cunin and Chaoui came up with the idea for Cuberider, and decided to develop the program together.
The company began in Cunin's living room, and in various University libraries. Cunin and Chaoui initially attempted to gain support with academics and professionals, but after some frustration with this approach, decided to go ahead and build the payload on their own. A major step in their success was when Cuberider was awarded accelerator funding by Telstra. This provided access to proper office space in which to further develop the payload, and ultimately led to the growth and success of the company.
There were many obstacles encountered in launching the payload to the ISS. The first was that Australia is not currently part of the ISS program. In order for the Cuberider payload to be accepted by the ISS, it needed to be signed off individually by all 16 member countries. This was assisted by Cuberider's American partners, DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks. Another obstacle was obtaining the required Overseas Launch Certificate (OLC) from the Australian Government. This process was described as 'extremely tedious' by Cunin, and prevented other organisations from obtaining an OLC. The Space Activities Act was later re-written, greatly simplifying the process, something that Cuberider played a pivotal role in.
After the OLC was obtained in May 2016, Cuberider focused on developing the online education platform that would be the key to schools' involvement in the program. In their first year (2016) Cuberider had 54 schools, and over 1000 students participate in the program.
The payload was initially intended to launch in December 2016 on a SpaceX rocket, but following a SpaceX explosion during launch tests in September 2016, Cuberider were forced to switch to a different rocket. On 9 December, 2016, the payload was successfully launched to the ISS, on schedule, via Japanese HTV-6 rocket, docking 4 days later.
The payload was installed on the ISS on 19 December, 2016. In total it spent approximately nine months aboard the space station, during which time about one month was spent collecting and transmitting data back to Earth for use by the students enrolled in the program. Following completion of the 2016 program, the payload returned to Earth via the SpaceX rocket on 16 September 2017. It arrived back in Sydney on 24 October 2017, and was donated to the Museum in January 2018.