The world's first satellite designed and built entirely by students was launched into orbit this week for the European Space Agency under a program meant to inspire and train Europe's future aerospace workers.
The Sseti-Express was built entirely by students
Called the Sseti Express, the student-made satellite blasted off into space on Thursday morning on the back of a Russian Cosmos 3-M rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Satellites from China, Germany, Britain, Iran, Norway and Japan shared the ride.
In addition to acting as a test bed for many designs, including a cold-gas attitude control system, SSETI Express will also take pictures of the Earth and function as a radio transponder.
200 students the creators
The European Space Agency in Darmstadt also aims to stimulate students' interest in space technology
Sseti stand for Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative under the aegis of the European Space Agency (ESA). Some 200 university students from more than 20 universities in 12 countries participated in the project under the ESA's initiative.
The satellite is about the size of a standard washing machine and weighs about 62 kilograms.
From the drawing board to the launch pad, the project took just 18 months with students relying on the Internet as their principal means of exchanging data. The ESA provided the entire funding.
"They (the satellites) are all in what we called a polar orbit, little below some 700 kilometers above our head so to speak and they have a number of technology experiments on board," said Heidi Graff, a spokeswoman for ESA.
"They are also testing a special new kind of solar cell, which is better in quality than the standard used to be, they will have a camera on board to try to take observation pictures and they have certain equipment on board with which they will communicate with radio amateurs all over the world," Graff added.
But even more than the technology, the uniqueness of the project lies in the fact that the entire undertaking was completed by the students themselves.
The SSETI, which provided the framework for the mission, was launched by ESA’s Education Department in 2000 to get European students involved in real space missions, and well as give them practical hands-on experience and encourage them to take up careers in space technology and science.
"It's all done and built by the students themselves. We more or less only financed the technical check out to make it qualify to go for launch. It is the students who really have to get the credit," said Graff.
One of the students, Jürgen Schlutz from the University of Stuttgart who is one of 15 students studying aerospace engineering in the project propulsion team, said the hands-on training had been valuable.
"We are all students of engineering but it's a pretty much a theoretical approach, we didn't do much in the way of hardware (until now)," Schlutz said.
"What we learned in the project was actually to build --what comes extra is all the involvement in the project itself, in project management, the work with student teams all over Europe, the technical aspect and intercultural co-operation was something that was very valuable for team members," he added.