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Student-built satellite launched into space

It has been a year in the planning, but this week a team of engineering finalists successfully launched their CubeSat into space from the ESA’s (European Space Agency) Esrange Space Centre, situated in Kiruna, Sweden.

The launch went exactly to plan - the nosecone deployed exactly on time, the satellite ejected from the Rexus 17 rocket, the communications system powered up and the team started to receive data signals at the ground station. Later, two sonic bangs were heard, which was thought to be the satellite breaking the sound barrier on re-entry.

This is the first time the ESA have successfully achieved transmitted data from an ESA/Rexus ejected unit on re-entry, so an amazing achievement. The team now have a lot of data to be analysed and are hoping to estimate the speed of the satellite via the Doppler shift of the radio signals.

As expected the satellite could not be recovered, but the ejection unit was recovered by helicopter along with the rocket’s service module 40km away.

A video taken by the team on launch day is available below:

For updates visit the team’s Facebook page. Footage from BBC Midlands Today broadcast on Thursday 19 March is available on iPlayer (watch from 10.30 minutes in).

About the mission:

RX17 - WUSAT-SOLSPEC (Cubesat-based transit spectroscopy – Measuring the Sun’s spectrum at different atmospheric path lengths as an analogy to the study of exoplanet atmospheres) - University of Warwick, United Kingdom
Launch Date: 17 March 2015

The scientific objective of this experiment is to explore the transit spectroscopy method of analysing exoplanetary atmospheres as applied to the earth. This will prove the viability of this method by estimating the effects of the earth’s atmosphere on the solar emission. With these measurements we can view the earth as if it were an exoplanet, allowing us to better predict what the expected signal of an earth like planet would be. This can inform us about a planet’s formation history and current environment, and even provide evidence for habitability. Such an experiment would also provide technological demonstrations for future cubesat atmospheric probes of the solar system planets, where cubesats have already been proposed as possible components of larger science missions.The expected results would be measurements of selected frequencies of the solar spectrum at varying atmospheric path lengths as the Cubesat-based spectrometer descends through the earth’s atmosphere from suborbital altitude to ground.