Engineering students get out of this world results after telescope project is launched

Engineering students have succeeded in an
innovative project to take photos of the Sun from the Earth’s atmosphere.

A team of students from the University of Sheffield and
neighbouring universities have successfully launched a self-made telescope up to 30 km above the Earth to capture images of the Sun which are not distorted by air.

The telescope, named the Sheffield University Nova Balloon Lifted Solar Telescope (SunbYte) is the first of its kind and was designed and built from scratch by the team of more than 30 UK students. It was the only UK project in 2016 to be selected for the balloon side of the Swedish–German student
programme REXUS/BEXUS (Rocket and Balloon Experiments for University Students).

The SunbYte Team

The team of undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students travelled to Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) Esrange Space Center to launch their telescope into upper layer of the Earth atmosphere on Friday 20th October.

The data received will enable them to analyse the performance of the mechanical gimbal (supporting structure of the
telescope) and scientifically study solar images of the Sun. The project will also promote and encourage more young people to pursue space science and engineering studies.

Pooling their knowledge from every discipline of Engineering offered at the University of Sheffield, the students endured a rigorous design and testing process of low-cost, high-tech manufacturing techniques.

The design itself is based upon a AiryLab EdgeHD 800 HaT
Solar Telescope System provided by Astrograph Ltd and optical telescope called PiKon which was developed by team member, Mark Wrigley.

Dr Viktor Fedun, from the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering and the lead academic advisor of the project, said: “The SunbYte project is an excellent example of the quality of research led teaching we are involved in at the University of Sheffield.

SunbYte Balloon Launch

“This activity gave a fabulous opportunity for our STEM students to work together, gaining actual real life experience of the aerospace industry and manufacturers, applying their scientific and engineering knowledge and networking with students and companies from all over Europe. There were lots of challenges along the way, all of which made students grow and unite as a Team. I am confident that such type of projects will help the University of Sheffield attract and recruit the best students and researchers.”

The team, which included a range of international students from all over the world, celebrating the University’s #WeAreInternational Campaign, described the project as a “once in a lifetime experience” and a “massive learning experience” that enabled them to put the skills they have mastered whilst studying into practice.

Mr Godwin Okojie, a third year mechanical engineering student at the University of Sheffield, said: Godwin Okojie, a third year mechanical engineering student at the University of Sheffield said: “For me and the rest of the team, this was a truly incredible experience. To spend so long working on something that actually went into space is remarkable and something we are all so proud of. The entire team have worked tirelessly on this project ensuring every element of the telescope was perfect.

“We’ve all learnt so many skills that will help enable us to become the successful engineers of tomorrow. We put all the knowledge we have picked up studying engineering modules into real practice and learnt so much more along the way. All of us have matured as engineers during this project. The University of Sheffield encourages students to spread their wings, inspires autonomy and instils a real ethos in its students to get stuck in and experience what the engineering community has to offer outside of education.”

Dr Gary Verth (SoMaS) added: “As an academic adviser on this project, it has been immensely rewarding in 2017 to teach these 2nd year undergraduate mechanical engineering students as part of their core mathematics module and within the same year see them forming the backbone of the mechanical team for Project Sunbyte. Without their immense effort and dedication this fantastic mission success would not have been possible.”



The REXUS/BEXUS programme allows students from universities and higher education colleges across Europe to carry out scientific and technological experiments on research rockets and balloons. Each year, two rockets and two balloons are launched, carrying up to 20 experiments designed and built by student teams. The programme is realized under a bilateral Agency Agreement between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB). The Swedish share of the payload has been made available to students from other countries through collaboration with ESA. Experts from DLR, SSC, ZARM and ESA provide technical support to the students throughout the project. EuroLaunch, the collaboration between the Esrange Space Center of SSC and the Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) of DLR, is responsible for the campaign management and operation of the launch vehicles.

Engineering at the University of Sheffield

With 5,600 students and the UK’s second highest research income of over £77M per annum, the Faculty of Engineering is one of the largest providers of engineering research and education in the UK.