University of Southampton Small Satellite is a group of students, primarily from a physics background, who aim to get a fully functional satellite into space by the end of 2016. It will be the culmination of three years of effort, with the formation of the group being in October 2013. Only one other UK University has sent a satellite into space before – the University of Surrey – and when this satellite is launched, it will certainly propel the University of Southampton even further into the forefront of scientific excellence.
With a £7000 grant so far from the University and the potential for greater funding from the Education Enhancement Fund, the momentum is there for the actual building of the satellite – the design having been finished, using the latest 3D printing technology. Some 3D printed parts are actually going to be on the satellite itself, highlighting how far this technology has come.
As for what the non-scientific purposes of this project are – well, there are three. First, to increase the publicity of the University’s engineering as a world-class field of study; second, to ensure University-wide engagement on current and future projects (this project, for example, combines the effort of 5-6 faculties/societies, including ones suc
h as Spaceflight Soc. and the Winchester School of Art). Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this project aims to provide a hands-on education to many who are involved. Often, especially with those who study an often-theoretical subject such as Physics, there can be very little hands-on experience of the subject whilst studying it at University. Thus, the development of this satellite allows this hands-on education to take place.
Now, for the science-y bit. The primary aim for this satellite is to provide support for space re-entry research. What many people don’t realise is that Earth is surrounded by a considerable amount of space debris, which all have the ability to re-enter Earth. This satellite would provide the data which would help us to predict when and where certain types of debris would re-enter Earth, and thus, if needed, help put in place any measures which would ensure that any human casualties are prevented.
When the building of this satellite is completed, the aim will be to launch it with the ESA (European Space Agency), for free thorough their educational spaceflight competition. If not, additional funding will have to be found to ensure that this satellite is launched.
I sat down with Clemens Rumpf, a PhD student,who is leading this project (uos3) along with Alexander Litke to discuss what their motivation for instigating this project was and how it is progressing:
So what was you motivation for wanting to get a satellite into space?
So I have been studying space engineering all my life, but I haven’t actually put anything into space, so that was my private motivation to work on this project – to work on space hardware an put something into space; but beyond that there are other motivations such as increasing the reputation of the University of Southampton in the space engineering field, so showcasing the excellence of the University by actually producing space hardware here at the University. Then engaging and cross-University collaboration, and educating as many students about the project as possible.
How difficult was it to bring everyone together from different backgrounds on this one project?
Actually there was a lot of interest from all sides after we approached them. In the beginning you know as these things go Alexander (Likte) as me came together and decided we were going to do this project, but once we got the ball rolling we found mostly open doors, especially in the Astronautics Research Group where we found a lot of support, and then when we reached out to other faculties most people were enthusiastic about the project, so it was quite easy to find collaboration throughout the University.
You hope to launch by the end of 2016, what will your emotions be when the satellite finally gets up in the sky?
I think initially I’ll spend a few nights looking up at our satellite in the sky, although that probably won’t be possible!
What will this satellite be doing when it’s in space?
First of all it will have a camera on it, so we hope to capture a picture of Southampton from space, which will hopefully go on the University’s homepage. Then, from a science perspective, it will have both a GPS sensor and an altitude control sensor on board, so we will record the trajectory of the satellite, and with this experimental data, we hope to support the re-entry predictions for objects such as space debris, and we hope to make these predictions better and increase safety for the people on Earth.
Finally, what message do you have for people who want to get involved with this project?
This project has a lot of aspects to it – not just on the technical side. It’s about getting the message out, and we even have a collaboration with the Winchester School of Art, for example – we’re doing space-inspired art on the project. However, when you are inspired by space, we are sure that we can be incorporated into this project – just contact us, and we’ll see what you can offer!