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Students look to space after successful satellite launch

Image of the earth taken by the prototype CubeSatImage of the earth taken by the prototype CubeSat

Warwick students have taken their first step towards a space launch by sending a prototype satellite 30km into the stratosphere.

The successful test launch paves the way towards a longer-term plan to put a small satellite, built almost entirely by undergraduate students in the School of Engineering, into low-earth orbit at around 2,000km.

The eight students - all in the fourth year of the MEng degree course - have been working for the past year on the
Warwick University Satellite (WUSAT) Project.

They have built a satellite known as a CubeSat, a 10-cm-wide cube which despite its small size can carry a range of equipment including cameras and sensors.

The test launch took place at an approved site in Welshpool, where a high-altitude weather balloon lifted the satellite to an altitude of approximately 30km before it made a parachute descent to the ground.

Engineering student Richard Young said:

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 its test launch, the CubeSat carried three cameras, a radio communications link and a GPS tracker to aid recovery. It was designed to withstand temperatures down to -60C and transmit data and images up to a range of 30 miles.

The successful launch and recovery means the students can now set their sights on their longer-term aim of launching it 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 grew out of previous work Warwick students had undertaken on the electrical power sub-system for the European Space Agency’s ESMO satellite – a project to send a satellite into a Moon orbit. This project was suspended last year, but rather than let their good work go to waste the students decided to continue with their own space mission in the form of the WUSAT project.