Student space project prepares for take off

Students from the University of Sheffield are working on an innovative space project are making final preparations for launching a
solar telescope in Sweden this week.

Over the past year, students from all disciplines of engineering from the University of Sheffield have been working on
developing a low-cost, high-quality, stratospheric balloon

The Sheffield University Nova Balloon Lifted Solar Telescope (SunbYte) will be launched on a helium balloon to an altitude of 25 km to collect data on the Sun with minimal atmospheric interference.

The Sunbyte Team

The launch will take place at Esrange Space Center, the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) launch facility, where the telescope will be sent 30-40km into the atmosphere so it can take high-resolution images of the Sun.

If successful, the launch will be a step forward in the way scientists study and observe the sun as it will provide an alternative to using large land based observatories which can sometimes fall prey to atmospheric disturbances. Resulting images from the experiment will be used to compare against industry standards and assess the viability of such a product.

Academic lead, Dr Viktor Fedun from The University of Sheffield’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, said: “The student-led SunbYte project has been a great experience for all of those involved. It is very important to the University that our students have real world experiences on projects like this as it helps them develop skills and networks outside the lecture theatre.

“The SunbYte project will enable the testing of the proposed stabilisation and observation system for use in future missions. We hope to create telescopes that will become important and economically sustainable instruments for high atmosphere balloon-borne solar observations.”

After a rigorous design and testing process, the telescope has been equipped with a sensor and motorised system that will detect the Sun position and point the telescope in the required direction. It also uses larger mirrors, special optical filters and a higher resolution camera provided by Andor Technology Ltd. (Belfast, UK) to increase the quality of the data.

During the design of the telescope, students have used low-cost but high-tech manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, in order to produce an economical alternative to expensive large ground-based telescopes. 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.

The team have worked with leading scientists from the REXUS/BEXUS programme as well as the European Space Agency (ESA) to ensure the telescope is safe and well-constructed, as well as drawing from technological expertise from industry professionals.

For more information about SunbYte, visit the project’s website at or email the team at