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UK students use STFC's world class space facilities to design their own volcano monitoring satellite

23 June 2017

Students discussing the project around a computer screen

University of Bristol students working on the project
(Credit: University of Bristol)

A team of students and staff from the University of Bristol (UoB) are designing a volcano monitoring satellite thanks to the support of STFC’s RAL Space team.

Once designed and built, the new satellite will observe volcanoes from space and take 3D images of ash clouds allowing a better understanding of how such plumes spread in the atmosphere.

The team of 17 students and academics, working as part of the UoB satellite programme have been given unique access to the Concurrent Design Facility at RAL Space, to design the University’s first CubeSat.

The team will be working on the design of the satellite and will be mentored by RAL Space experts in a special Concurrent Design Facility. Concurrent engineering puts all design engineers and required tools together with the user in the same location at the same time. This allows for iterative design at a fast pace, with user and designers agreeing requirements and taking decisions in real time.

STFC project principle investigator, Dr Dan Peters said of the collaboration: “This is a new use of the RAL Space CDF where we are bringing together the next generation of space scientists and engineers from Bristol to interact with our experts.

“It is incredibly rewarding seeing the students produce novel solutions to the challenges of working in this environment.”

Dr Lucy Berthoud, Space Systems Lecturer in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University said: “This is the first time that RAL Space have allowed students to use their facility. We are really excited for our students to have the opportunity to work in this state-of-the-art facility and would like to thank RAL Space and the UK Space Agency for helping to make this happen.”

Dr Matt Watson, Reader in Natural Hazards from the School of Earth Sciences, added: “It is really unusual for UK universities to build a satellite. Once the University of Bristol-built satellite has been launched, we hope to receive ground-breaking images of volcanic ash. It is great that space experts and students have come together to work on the project and we are delighted that we are encouraging the next generation of space scientists and engineers.”

The project, initially funded by the UK Space Agency, will take several years to complete.

STFC Contact

Jake Gilmore
M: 07970994586

Notes to Editors

During the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010, European airspace closure resulted in costs of £200m a day for airlines. Over 90,000 flights were cancelled during the six day travel ban.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000