Warwick students reach for the stars

A group of engineering students at the University of Warwick are gearing towards launching a satellite into space after successfully sending a prototype satellite 30km into the stratosphere.

The success of the prototype is positive news for the team whose long-term ambition is to put a small satellite, built almost entirely by undergraduates from the School of Engineering, into low-earth orbit (which is around 2,000km above Earth’s surface).

The eight students in the team are all in the fourth year of a MEng degree course and have been workingon the Warwick University Satellite (WUSAT) Project for the past year.

As part of the project the students have built a satellite known as a CubeSat, which is a 10cm wide cube capable of carrying a range of equipment including cameras and sensors.

It is designed to withstand temperatures as low as -60C and can transmit data and images up to a range of 30 miles.

The test launch took place at an approved site in Welshpool, where a high-altitude weather balloon lifted the satellite into the stratosphere before the balloon popped and a parachute safely carried the CubeSat back to Earth.

The prototype was later successfully recovered from near Banbury following a 2 hour flight.

Engineering student Richard Young commented: “Launching the prototype is the key first step to eventually sending our satellite into space.

“The balloon launch aimed to test the power and communications systems to make sure they were ready for the more challenging task that lies ahead – and they all performed well.

“WUSAT is a very exciting project to be involved in, as launching a satellite is a big engineering challenge.

“Not only are we building technical knowhow, we are also working closely with a number of prestigious industry sponsors.

“That experience of working alongside top engineering firms is really beneficial and will stand us in good stead when we go out into the jobs market.”

For the test launch, the prototype carried three cameras, a radio communications link and a GPS tracker to aid in its recovery.

The success of the launch and recovery means that the students can now set their sights on their longer-term aim of launching CubeSat into space.

Dr William Crofts, Director of the Warwick Satellite Programme, said: “The WUSAT project is quite a unique set-up which aims to emulate real-world engineering teams.

“Students from different engineering disciplines – such as manufacturing, electronics and mechanical engineering – all work together as they would in a real-life working environment.

“It’s that experience, as well as the engineering knowledge the students are gaining, that is very valuable to employers.”

The WUSAT project initially developed from previous work that Warwick students had undertaken on the electrical power sub-system for the European Space Agency’s ESMO satellite, which aimed to send a satellite into a Moon orbit.

Despite this project being suspended last year, the students decided not to let their efforts be in vain and continued with their own space mission – the WUSAT project.

The industry sponsors of the WUSAT project are Roke Manor Research, Lyncolec, Solidworks, Thales, ITP Engines UK, National Instruments, Harwin and RS.

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