Inventive science and engineering students from the University of Sheffield have been given the green light to build a solar telescope which could revolutionise solar astronomy in the 21st century.

The student-led Sheffield University Nova Balloon Lifted Solar Telescope (SunbYte) project aims to develop innovative, low-cost, high-quality, stratospheric balloon platform
astronomy.

The project team, made up of engineering and science
students, were given the go ahead to begin constructing their final prototype after presenting the project to a Critical Design
Review panel at the ESA-ESTEC Centre on Tuesday 30 May 2017.

After a rigorous design process, the team will now begin
building the necessary telescope instrumentation which will be launched on a helium balloon to an altitude of 25 km to collect data on Earth’s local star – the Sun – with minimal atmospheric interference.

The SunbYte Team at ESA

To achieve this goal, the telescope will also be equipped with a sensor and motorised system that will detect the Sun position and point the telescope in the required direction.

Academic lead, Dr Viktor Fedun from ACSE, said: “The SunbYte project will enable the testing of the proposed stabilisation and observation system for use in future missions. We hope to revolutionise solar telescope technology and create telescopes that will become important and economically sustainable instruments for high atmosphere balloon-borne solar observations.”

Software Team Leader, Dr Petrica Taras, said: “This is a very important milestone for the SunbYte project and we have achieved it. We are next going to proceed with building the prototype and launch it in Sweden during the autumn in the final stage of our project.”

Yun-Hang Cho, Student Team Leader, said: “This is an unprecedented opportunity for so many STEM students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, to come together and make a real payload for a real mission. I hope that this form of practical learning will gain more prominence and lead to even more exciting projects in the future, such as the REXUS rocket missions.”

Using low-cost but high-tech manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, the SunbYte team aims to produce an economical alternative to expensive large ground-based telescopes which require adaptive optics to counter atmospheric seeing effects. The SunbYte telescope design 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.

Rupert Smith, Director at Astrograph Ltd, said “We fully support this innovative project and its goals. The opportunity to provide help to the project with the supply of a customised telescope and H-Alpha filter holds great interest for us and we look forward to the results from the first flight.”

The new design concept goes a step further as it 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.

The SunbYte multidisciplinary team is made up of Undergraduate, Postgraduate and PhD students from across a number of Engineering departments at The University of Sheffield, including; Aerospace, Civil and Structural, Electronic and Electrical, Mechanical, Materials Science and Automatic Control and Systems Engineering. The project has gained a strong cross-faculty support from Dr Gary Verth from the School of Mathematics and Statistics (SoMaS) and at a national level, from Northumbria University, Queen’s University Belfast and University of Hull.

Dr Gary Verth, from SoMaS, said: “This has been a fantastic opportunity to do research led teaching. It is very gratifying to know that undergraduate students I have taught during the last spring semester will actually be launching their own solar observing mission at the start of the next academic year. Thankfully, the University of Sheffield has also been able to fund six of these students to work on the project full-time over the summer via a SURE network project I am co-supervising along with Dr Fedun.”

For more information about SunbYte, visit the project’s website at http://sunbyte.group.shef.ac.uk/ or email the team at SunbYte@sheffield.ac.uk.