Student space balloon project reaches new heights

  • Students to develop low-cost telescope to observe the sun
  • Telescope will be lifted 30-40km above earth’s surface by a helium balloon
  • Data collected will help us develop defences against solar flares

Students from the University of Sheffield have won a prestigious international competition to develop a low-cost telescope to be lifted into space by a helium balloon to observe the Sun.

Students from the Sunbyte project

A European Space Agency programme, The REXUS/BEXUS competition (Rocket Experiments for University Students/Balloon Experiments for University Students) saw the project team design and fabricate a lightweight telescope that will gather data from the Sun’s atmosphere.

The telescope will be hoisted up into the Earth’s lower atmosphere, called the troposphere, to observe the Sun by a high altitude helium balloon.

By lifting the balloon 30 - 40 kilometres above the surface of the Earth, the SunbYte telescope will avoid the distortions produced at higher levels of the atmosphere and produce higher quality imaging than traditional ground-based solar observations.

The team, dubbed SunbYte (Sheffield University Nova Balloon Lifted Solar Telescope), will use innovative manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing to make their design come to life and to produce an alternative to large and expensive telescopes.

Knowledge of the Sun’s dynamic atmosphere is crucial for understanding its interactions with the Earth and the local space environment, known as Space Weather. Images captured by the team will be of important scientific value.

The student-based project is being led by Yun-Hang Cho from the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering and supported by academic Dr Viktor Fedun from the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering. The project has gained cross-faculty support from Dr Gary Verth from the School of Mathematics and Statistics and at a national level, from Northumbria University, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Hull.

Yun-Hang Cho said: “What excites me about project Sunbyte is the potential for protecting our way of life. The knowledge gained will enable us to develop effective defences against solar flares and expand our knowledge of the universe.”

He continued: “Sunbyte places the involved University of Sheffield students at the forefront of science and engineering, giving them the chance to learn through experience. I am very proud of the work everyone has delivered and hope to continue leading them to success.”

The balloon is due to be launched in October 2017 from the Esrange Space Centre in Northern Sweden.

Additional Information

For more info, please visit the Sunbyte website:

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 2016 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 further information please contact:
Kirsty Bowen
Media Relations Officer
0114 222 1034