SSETI Express inspires a new generation
The SSETI Express launch at 08:52 CEST this morning was followed by thousands of people all over the world via television and Internet. A new generation of satellite engineers gathered at Space Expo in Noordwijk, the Netherlands - around one hundred international schoolchildren who were inspired to build their own satellites.
The children were fascinated as the Kosmos 3-M rocket lifted off the launch pad just before nine o'clock. For a few seconds there was complete silence, and then an enthusiastic applause. The students from over twenty universities throughout Europe who built SSETI have done a great job. In just one and a half years, communicating mainly by Internet, they built a satellite that is now in orbit around the Earth, taking measurements and carrying out experiments.
How exactly do you achieve this with so many people involved? Tor Viscor, manager of the SSETI-community explains to the schoolchildren how it was done: "Language wasn't such a big problem, everyone can write in English. Timing was the major challenge. You have to get all the teams living in different time zones talking to each other and to make sure that their contributions are properly coordinated. We've managed to do this using chat rooms and news servers. It was a huge task, but everyone believed in it. That is why it worked."
Shortly after the launch, pupils from the Rijnlands Lyceum, in Oegstgeest, and the American School in The Hague, put the finishing touches to their own satellites. The results of their own international cooperation: more than ten colourful space vehicles - from weather satellite 'Fatboy 05' to Mars mission 'Mission X' and the 'Billy Bong Express', which will investigate the tenth planet.
Melina (12) from Ohio, in the United States, and Stephanie (11) from the Netherlands built a weather satellite for the future, with a torch on board to help take photographs of the cloud cover in the dark. What would you do if the storm arrived in the middle of the night, you would want to know on time!
Solar panels to supply power, rocket engines, instruments, wiring and a heat shield: the schoolchildren know exactly what is needed when building a satellite. Even then, according to Anna (10) from New Zealand, it's quite a challenge to build it for real: "The students who built SSETI-Express must have worked really well together, otherwise they would never have managed it".
Philippe Willekens from ESA's Education Department agrees. The students cooperated closely with each other, and also with ESA. The keyword here according to Willekens is 'trust': "ESA trusted the students. We promised them they could launch a satellite if they built it themselves. The only thing ESA did was the testing. The success of this satellite is all down to the students."
Kara (12) from the United States is impressed. She put a lot of imagination into building a weather satellite. "The satellite engineers must also have to use a lot of imagination. You also need to be inspired. As well as a whole lot of time! It takes so long to put all the small pieces together so that it works properly."
Maybe some of the schoolchildren here today will end up working in the space sector? Perhaps as an engineer, a scientist, or in some other role. According to SSETI initiator and ex-ESA astronaut Wubbo Ockels they won't have too wait long. They can take part as soon as they are students: "When we started this project some people thought we were joking – surely students can't build a satellite, you need professionals for that. You have to believe in the younger generation. Give them the opportunity to gather experience and knowledge, and with a bit of guidance, before you know they have built a satellite! I totally believe in the next dream: a student mission to the Moon."