Sheffield students venture out of this world to capture shots of the sun

  • Students launch a homemade telescope on a helium balloon into space to capture images of the sun
  • Project enabled team to scientifically track the star at the centre of our solar system and will help shape the engineers of tomorrow

A team of engineering students from the University of Sheffield and neighbouring universities have successfully launched a self-made telescope 25km into space and captured images of the sun.

The telescope, dubbed Sheffield University Nova Balloon Lifted Solar Telescope (SunbYte)The telescope, dubbed 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 30 students in the UK.

The team of undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students from the University of Sheffield launched the telescope on Friday 20 October from Kiruna, Sweden and captured images of the sun. These images were taken with the low cost telescope created using innovative techniques and costing just £25,000, instead of the usual million pounds in costs to create a telescope of this scale and intelligence.

Dr Viktor Fedun from the University of Sheffield's 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 training we are involved in at the University of Sheffield."

Yun-Hang Cho, Team Leader of the project, said:"The SunbYte project was a fantastic opportunity for the 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 across Europe. There were lots of challenges along the way, all of which made students grow and unite as a team."

The team, which included a range of international students from all over the world, spent almost a year designing, constructing and testing the telescope. The global collaboration supported the University’s #WeAreInternational campaign, designed to celebrate and highlight the importance of the UK’s diverse international student and staff communities.

The students 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.

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 has 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."

The images the team captured will enable them to view and scientifically study solar images of the Sun. The project will also promote and encourage more young people to pursue space engineering studies.

Godwin added: "There were lots of challenges along the way, all of which made us grow and unite as a team. Some members of the electrical and software teams were unable to travel to Kiruna. This was problematic for us as many of the problems we encountered in Sweden were software and electronic related. But we all rallied round as team in order to keep us on track. We’ve not had a lot of sleep but it was all worth it – we are a very proud team."

Engineering at the University of Sheffield

Key facts about the project:

  • Throughout the year-long project 25 to 30 students have been involved, categorised into three sub-teams: the mechanical team, electrical and software team and the optics team.
  • The mechanical team designed the physical structure, calculated the mechanical stresses of the structure and took charge of the Student Experimentation Document, which had to be sent monthly to the European Space Agency to update them.
  • The electrical and software team wrote the code for the tracking software and managed the wiring of the electronics box.
  • The optics team took charge of the camera software, ensuring it was focused and managed the data acquisition of the pictures from the computer.
  • The group are aged between 18 and 33 years old.
  • The main aim of the project was to track and capture images of the sun, acquire scientifically valuable solar images and also promote and encourage space engineering studies across the UK and beyond.
  • The project was only made possible after being accepted onto the 25th cycle of the BEXUS program which reviews proposals focused on the balloon element of the telescope each year from competing universities and institutions. Only three to five proposals are accepted into the cycle each year.
  • The balloon and the gondola on the telescope are provided by the European Space Agency.

SunbYte team of engineering students

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For more information, please contact:

Mary Hickey
Media and Communications Officer
0114 2221034