Earth from orbit

Competition launched to inspire future space scientists

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK government has launched a competition which calls on aspiring space scientists and engineers to design nanosatellite designs to support the UK’s decarbonisation drive.

A nanosatellite is any satellite with a mass between 1kg and 10kg, such as the popular research device the CubeSat. These small-payload satellites tend to be used for data gathering (such as on climate change) and relaying radio signals (such as for satellite navigation systems).

The competition was announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps during a visit to Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall. The government hopes to double the UK’s share of the global space market to 10 per cent by 2030. It aims to have capacity to host small satellite launches by the end of 2022, with the establishment of Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay as Europe’s first operational spaceport.

“As hosts of the G7 and with the first space launches from British soil firmly within our grasp, I want to support the UK’s brightest minds and creative ideas to launch this exciting competition,” said Shapps. “This will help to secure a future spaceflight legacy for Great Britain, by inspiring young adults to build the skills needed to work within this growing sector.”

Entries are being welcomed from anyone in the UK aged 16 or above (either individually or as part of a team) and the competition will officially open in August 2021 and close in February 2022. Specifications, such as weight, size, and licensing requirements, will be outlined when the competition opens. The winning team will get access to a £600,000 Challenge Fund to develop and manufacture their satellite, with the hope of launching it from a UK spaceport. Their satellite will be used to help monitor the impacts of climate change from orbit.

Amanda Solloway, the science minister, added: “We are committed to putting British innovation at the heart of the global effort to understand and minimise the effects of climate change, cementing our position as a science superpower and helping us to build back greener from the pandemic.

“As we anticipate with excitement the first satellite launches from British soil next year, this competition gives young people across the UK an opportunity to be part of our country’s thriving space sector and shape a better future for everyone.”

Recently, it was reported that a team of Finnish students had teamed up with space engineers to develop a version of the Kitsat (an education-focused CubeSat) made from coated birch plywood which would be capable of surviving extreme conditions while in orbit. The project, which could place a wooden satellite in orbit by the end of 2021, aims to test the suitability of treated wood as a cheap space material.

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