Science and Technology Facilities Council
Ignition, Lift-off....New Satellite Launches Next Generation of UK Scientists
A cosmic ray detector designed by sixth form students from the UK blasted off into orbit overnight.
Hundreds of schools across the country will play a hands-on role analysing vital ‘space weather’ data sent back to Earth by TechDemoSat-1, a UK-built satellite that started its journey into space overnight.
TechDemoSat-1 is equipped with LUCID (Langton Ultimate Cosmic Ray Intensity Detector), a student-designed instrument which will collect information about the types, intensity and direction of cosmic rays that bombard satellites stationed around 635km above Earth, data crucial to ensuring that telecoms and other low-orbit satellites can withstand such radiation and function effectively.
Funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) the data from the project will be posted on the CERN@school website where students across the country will be able to access it, scrutinise it and input their findings. These findings will then be made available to space experts around the world. Over 200 UK schools are expected to take up this unique opportunity to play a key part in serious science of global importance.
LUCID is the brainchild of sixth-form students at Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury, Kent and has taken seven years to go from original concept to final lift-off.
Pupils at the schools taking part in the project will be able to help sift the enormous volume of data produced by LUCID and pinpoint key features, trends and patterns. The aim is to fire them with enthusiasm for science and provide them with a launch pad for future careers in physics, engineering and other disciplines.
The project is part of the CERN@school initiative. Supported by STFC and hosted at the Langton, CERN@school aims to assist the teaching of particle physics in the classroom by giving students the opportunity to analyse data from ground-based and space-based detectors.
STFC is also involved in other aspects of the TechDemoSat-1 mission including:
- Co-funding with the UK Space Agency on the establishment and operation of the UKube-1 ground segment. (planning and commanding) for the complex payload on UKube-1, and the running of the Ground Station at STFC’s Chilbolton Observatory which is now communicating with the satellite
- STFC also sponsored an extended knowledge transfer partnership over 4 years between the University of Strathclyde and Clyde Space Ltd for the development of the UKube-1 platform for all of the instruments.
- STFC RAL Space provided a novel electronics module to control the Compact Modular Sounder (CMS) instrument in a joint build with researchers from Oxford University. The CMS uses infrared technology to create thermal maps of the surface of a Near Earth Asteroid. This will tell us about the rockiness of its surface, for example, where is a good place to land a robotic spacecraft, and how heating from the Sun and cooling in space can ‘push’ the asteroid around changing its orbit. Whilst in orbiting Earth the mission will also take the opportunity to map surface temperature, including oceans, and the temperature structure of the atmosphere, with the viewto compare this data with that from other Earth-observing instruments.
Professor Richard Holdaway, STFC’s Director of RAL Space, says: “If the UK is to compete successfully in the global economy, we need a new generation of bright, motivated young scientists to step forward and keep driving research and industry to new heights. Participating in a real-life space mission with clear, comprehensible benefits is the perfect way of highlighting to young people the value, fascination and sense of achievement that a career in science and technology can deliver.”
Langton pupils came up with the idea for the LUCID detector following a trip in 2007 to CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home of the Large Hadron Collider). Having seen Timepix microchips developed there for particle physics, medical and other uses, they had a real ‘eureka!’ moment – realising that the chips might be adapted to analyse charged particles in the ‘solar wind’ that streams from the Sun and sometimes disrupts satellite operations.
After entering the idea into a competition run by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) and the UK Space Agency, they worked with SSTL to develop it further with additional input from scientists worldwide. SSTL subsequently selected LUCID for inclusion as a payload on its TechDemoSat-1 satellite. Developed and built with support from the Technology Strategy Board and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), the satellite is providing low-cost flight opportunities for innovative commercial and research payloads developed by the UK space sector.
The launch of TechDemoSat-1 took place at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, using a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket. LUCID will now undergo a month of in-flight testing prior to producing ‘live’ data over the course of a mission expected to last three years – a perfect illustration of how technology devised for the world’s largest science experiments at CERN can be adapted to meet a range of real-world needs beyond the realm of particle physics.
Dr Jonathan Eastwood, Lecturer in Space and Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College and an STFC Advanced Fellow, says: “LUCID isn’t just an educational experiment. Its research-quality data will be of direct interest to the wider science community, allowing students to engage in real research, studying the basic physics of how space weather works.”
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Notes for Editors
STFC is providing over £200,000 in support of the whole CERN@School project.
STFC’s financial contribution for UKube-1 as a whole was £100,000 for the launch and £240,000 for the extended Knowledge Transfer Partnership.
Full list of organisations involved and key funders:
- Langton Star Centre
- Technology Strategy Board
- UK Space Agency (formerly the British National Space Centre)
- Institute of Physics
- Medipix2 Collaboration
- Royal Commission for the Exhibition 1851
- The Ogden Trust
- SEPnet (South East Physics Network)
- Kent County Council
Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys
Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, in Canterbury, Kent, is a state school with a mixed sixth form. The Langton Star Centre, which is based there, gives students at the school opportunities to work on authentic research projects alongside academic and industrial scientists and engineers.
The Timepix chip was developed through the international Medipix2 collaboration. https://medipix.web.cern.ch/medipix/pages/medipix2.php
SSTL is an independent British company within the Airbus Defence & Space group. It has been delivering small satellite missions for over 25 years. www.sstl.co.uk
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva, Swizterland. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Romania is a Candidate for Accession. Serbia is an Associate Member in the pre-stage to Membership. India, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer Status. http://home.web.cern.ch/
STFC & CERN
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) co-ordinates and manages the UK’s involvement and subscription with CERN. The UK’s influence on both CERN Council and CERN Finance Committee is coordinated through the UK Committee on CERN (UKCC). UK membership of CERN gives our physicists and engineers access to the experiments and allows UK industry to bid for contracts, UK nationals to compete for jobs and research positions at CERN, and UK schools and teachers to visit. UK scientists hold many key roles at CERN. Firms in the UK win contracts worth millions of pounds each year. The impact of winning contracts is often even greater as it enables companies to win business elsewhere.
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