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Youngsters flying high after winning top UK space competition

The Space Experiment Competition for UK schools which will see the winning team flying their entry on board a British-built satellite has been won by Shrewsbury School with their proposal for an ionospheric scintillation experiment called POISE.

Shrewsbury School, in Shropshire, beat five other groups from around the UK in the final stage of the competition which was announced at an awards ceremony at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow (IAC) today (Friday 3 October).

The winning experiment is expected to measure variations in the ionosphere, which can affect the accuracy and safety of satellite navigation systems, and might also help to provide indications of impending earthquakes.

The competition, launched earlier this year, challenged teams of 14 – 19 year olds to design and build a small, compact satellite instrument. The experiment will be flown as an additional payload on a low Earth orbiting satellite being built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, (SSTL), the world’s leading manufacturer of small satellites based in Guildford.

The winning team had to overcome significant challenges to design their experiment within the tight constraints of the competition. Their instrument could be no larger than the size of a lunch box, weigh no more than one kilogram and operate on less than one Watt of power.

The competition has been sponsored by the British National Space Centre (BNSC), a cross-Government organisation that co-ordinates civil space activities in the UK.

Ian Pearson, the Minister for Science and Innovation, said:

“We have some fantastically creative and talented young people in the country. It’s staggering to see the effort and imagination that has been generated by this competition.

“Shrewsbury School is to be congratulated on winning this innovative joint BNSC/SSTL school competition. I had the opportunity to meet some of the finalists earlier this summer and all of their ideas were excellent evidence of innovative thinking in our schools.

“I offer my commiserations to the runners-up. For the winners, the hard work starts now. The winning instrument will go into space on an SSTL satellite and I look forward to being invited to the launch.”

The students from Shrewsbury School will now work with SSTL’s scientists and engineers to refine the design of their experiment. The experiment will fly on board an SSTL satellite mission which is currently planned for launch in late 2010.

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, founder of SSTL, emphasised the educational potential of the mission: “SSTL was founded by the University of Surrey and we have always had very strong links with academia, so we’re delighted to extend this opportunity to UK schools. I hope that the experiment will encourage more of our young people to take up careers in science and engineering.”

Dr David Williams, Director General of BNSC, said: “The UK has a fantastic capability in the space arena and ambitious plans for exciting programmes such as the lunar exploration mission, MoonLITE. We hope this competition will help to inspire the next generation of space scientists who will make those plans a reality.”

The judging panel included Professor Colin Pillinger and Keith Mans, the Chief Executive of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

The winning team was announced at IAC by South Korea's first astronaut, Soyeon Yi. She recently returned from a trip to the International Space Station, having been chosen from about 36,000 applicants for the mission.

Robin Wolstenholme | alfa
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