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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 11:42 GMT
Space experiment contest launched
By Paul Rincon
Science Reporter, BBC News

Artes satellite. Image: Surrey Satellite Technology Limited.
SSTL is a major UK manufacturer of satellites
UK schoolchildren are being offered the chance to design an experiment for a small satellite in an effort to boost interest in space science.

The contest, organised by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL), is open to students between the ages of 14 and 18.

The winning experimental package should be about the size of a lunch box, weighing no more than 1kg.

But it will be given a developmental budget of up to 100,000.

The deadline for receiving initial proposals is 28 February 2008.

In March, entries will be whittled down to a shortlist of six finalists who will then be invited to submit more detailed proposals.

The winning proposal will be announced at the congress of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) in Glasgow in October 2008.

Raised profile

The competition was the brainchild of Dr Stuart Eves, who proposed the idea at a BNSC meeting convened to discuss raising the public profile of UK space activities.

Dr Eves said that the experiment could, for example, aim to measure some aspect of the Earth's atmosphere or meteorology, or even test some novel form of space propulsion, but he encouraged students to be creative.

This hands-on competition should be fun as well as educational
Dr Ian Gibson, BNSC
"Satellites affect everyone on the planet. They deliver telephone communications and TV programmes across the globe, enable the safe navigation of ships and aircraft and provide the timing signals that are used to coordinate the national power grid and mobile phone calls," Dr Eves said.

"They also supply weather forecasts, imagery of the Earth to assist with relief efforts when natural disasters strike, and monitoring of the Earth's resources and climate. That's why we think it's so important to get young people involved in space technology."

The experiment could launch on a satellite like this

The BNSC's director of space technology, Dr Ian Gibson said: "The competition gives students aged 14 to 18 from across the UK an excellent opportunity to come up with some challenging ideas with the winning entry then being built and launched into space."

"It is important to encourage young people to understand the important role that space systems play in everyday life and this hands-on competition should be fun as well as educational."

Dr Eves told the BBC News website that the judges were looking for good ideas; entrants are not expected to have detailed knowledge of satellite technology and will receive help from experts at UK satellite company SSTL in getting the experiment ready to fly.

Students will be judged on a five-page mission proposal, in which they are required to address the following questions:

  • The purpose of the experiment
  • What data the entrants expect to collect
  • How the data would be used
  • How the experiment would advance space science or technology

The finished experimental package will be flown on an SSTL mission scheduled for the 2010 timeframe.

It is to have a volume of no more than 10x10x10cm and consume no more than 1W of average power per orbit.

The British National Space Centre is a UK government body set up to co-ordinate civil space activities.

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