UKSEDS Annual Conference

starts as someone’s daydream” (Larry Niven)

The UKSEDS (UK Students for Exploration and Development of Space) conference took place on Sat 31st March and
Sun 1st April at the University of Kent, bringing together space
students and enthusiasts from universities across the UK, to enjoy two days of
talks, discussions and exhibitions. 

Professor Mark Burchell

After a welcome from Nancy Hine, the UKSEDS outgoing
chair, Jeremy Curtis from the UK Space Agency brought us up to date with the
latest statistics.  The UK space sector
employs 24,900 people directly in an industry worth £7.5bn, which is currently
growing at over 9% a year, contrary to the rest of the economy. By 2020 this is
projected to account for £14bn with 115,000 jobs. With 57% of workers currently
having a degree, this is one of the most highly skilled industries which will
continue its growing need for strong science and engineering graduates.

Jeremy Nickless and Simon Feast from ReactionEngines took us through the vision for the Skylon space plane. Skylon was
awarded €1m from ESA through the British National Space Centre in 2009 to prove
core technologies for its innovative SABRE air-breathing rocket engine, which
aims to allow Skylon to take off at a speed of Mach 0.5, and switch to its rocket
engines when it reaches a height of 26km and a speed of Mach 5. It hopes to
take up to 15 tonnes to 300km low earth orbit (LEO), ten times more cheaply and
400 times more safely than previous methods, with a two day turnaround time
between journeys.  Skylon will glide high
on re-entry, with a lighter larger surface area making it less brick-like than
the space shuttle.  However,
infrastructure such as 5.5km reinforced runways will be needed, to absorb the
high tyre pressures of landing.
Keith Muirhead of HE Space Operations, recruitment
for the space industry, advised students that experience is usually expected
before getting a job in the space industry. Internships are a great way to open
doors, and there are many relevant bodies to join for information and approach
for funding, eg WIA, RAeS, SGAC, RAS. Contractors for ESA are usually required
to have at least 3-4 years of experience.

Next, an opportunity to study the aurora in Kiruna,
Sweden, courtesy of Carol Norberg’s Arctic Science course, run by Umeå
University. This six week correspondence course includes four days studying in
Kiruna in February, and is free of tuition charges to all EU students.  She also runs a longer ‘Human Spaceflight and
Exploration’ course in the summer. Both courses offer a great experience to study
with like-minded people from different countries and backgrounds.
Dr David Ashford set out Bristol Space planes’
ambitions to build Ascender, a single-stage reusable sub-orbital space plane,
which would provide the basis for larger scale versions, Spacecab and Spacebus.
Dale Potts of MSSL then provided the story of the hunt for Prospero, the only
UK satellite to be successfully launched by a UK rocket in 1971.
Dr Lewis Dartnell introduced astrobiology, the quest
to understand the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the
universe. He showed a short video produced by Harvard of “Life in a cell”
(below), which he brought to life with vivid descriptions
such as “molecular walking machines”, “handshake proteins” and “scaffolding

He demonstrated the different possibilities for
life, shown by the extremophiles found on earth able to live in extremes of
temperature, acidity and pressure. Taking each solar system body in turn, he
discussed what kind of microbes might be able to survive the conditions found
Ed Trollope, project manager for the Rosetta Lander
Simulator at DLR, explained what was involved to fly the Rosetta mission. ESA’s
spacecraft plans to go into orbit around Comet 67P in 2014, deposit a small
lander on the nucleus, and stay with the comet for two years as it passes
around the sun.
Reports followed on UKSEDS projects. First up, Arrow
Lee from team PoleCATS told us of their miniaturised plasma analyser
experiment, which has been selected by REXUS (Rocket Experiments for University
Students) to be launched next year on a osunding rocket from Kiruna.  Jim Sadler then provided information on
Bristol SEDS Picosatellite and Rockoon projects. After a successful high
altitude balloon project, they are now working on two long term projects, to
create a UKSEDS suborbital launch capability using a Rockoon, and produce a
Pico-Sat based experimental subsystem within the next few years.
The day finished with live video link up from US SEDS
and SEDS India, who reported on what was happening in their SEDS groups,
opening up good communication links for UKSEDS to keep in touch internationally
in the future.
Sunday started with Professor Mark Burchell from the
University of Kent, discussing ‘Life in Space’. He suggested we should SETL
(search for extra-terrestrial life) rather than SETI as most life on Earth is
not intelligent. He observed that by “following the water”, NASA has found it
everywhere and postulated that the new motto should be “follow the organics”,
complex organic molecules which are more likely to indicate life, or look for
pollution, waste products produced by life. He introduced and discussed the Fermi
paradox, Drake equation and panspermia.
Radim Badsi updated the audience with the latest in
CubeSat technology, concluding that CubeSats can be used for serious research,
while the standardised platform and open collaborative approach will reduce
cost and increase reliability.
The UKSEDS held their AGM, reviewing the year’s
events which included rockets at MSSL, a stand at the NLO Astronomy fair and a November
workshop, and voted in an enthusiastic new committee to fill some of the empty positions from last year:
Damian Rumble
Chair: Nancy Hine
Ryan Laird
Jeremy Nickless
Richard Painter
Douglas Liddle
Maggie Lieu
Dr Stephen Lowry talked about ‘Missions to Small
Bodies’.  Asteroids and comets contain
remnants of material from the formation of the solar system which may help us
to understand it, while also providing an idea of the collision environment 4.5
million years ago.  The Stardust NASA
mission succeeded in bringing back grains of rock samples from Comet Wild2,
finding minerals in one particle that must have been produced at high
temperatures in a region close to the sun, showing that material has been mixed
across the entire solar system. The Hayabusa JAXA mission brought back
particles from an asteroid, despite problems with the spacecraft, and we are
currently awaiting science results from the analysis. For the Rosetta mission,
as in previous missions, supporting observational campaigns will be key to its
success, as reconnaissance observations from the ground and orbiting telescopes
will be crucial for maximum scientific results.
Jerry Stone regaled us with ideas for ‘Colonies in
Space’, working from Gerard K O’Neil’s vision. Mining the moon and asteroids
for materials would cost a lot less than needing to send materials from earth
into orbit, and make it possible to construct mile long ships at the L5
Lagrange point that could sustain communities, run by solar power. Founding space
colonies will help end wars for resources and prevent overloading of earth’s
heat balance.
Richard Newlands told us how Aspirespace formed out
of a UKSEDS project 21 years ago, organising the National Rocketry Championship
for three years. They are now working on rockoons, and are keen to collaborate
with Bristol’s rockoon project, and look to build a spaceplane in the future.
 Dr Hugh Lewis

Finally, Dr Hugh Lewis closed the day, detailing the
challenges and opportunities presented by space debris. Having launched around
40,000 objects into orbit, half remain there, totalling 6,300 tonnes.
Collisions, explosions and anti satellite tests account for the majority of
fragmentations, which cause the number of these objects to increase, and the
rate of collisions is likely to increase as the number of objects
increases.  The UN has issued debris
mitigation guidelines, to encourage planning for de-orbit at the end of
missions, but in order to deal effectively with the problem of space junk, we
need consensus on active removal, co-operation and collaboration between
countries willing to share the cost of engaging in active removal.  Space debris is number eight on the UN list
of “Ten stories the world should hear more about”.

Special thanks to Nancy Hine, Damian Rumble, Toivo
Hartikainen, Nadeem Gabbani and David Poole for organising an excellent conference.  If you would like to get involved with
UKSEDS, please contact the committee on
or visit the website at

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