When I was about 10 years old, living on Sydney's north shore, we would occasionally as a family check out the neighbouring garage sales on a Saturday morning. At one of these sales, I found a model rocket kit. I don't recall having to beg my mother too vigorously to let me have the kit --- but whatever arguments I advanced were successful. Weekends following that day were spend either building the rocket, or launching it at one of the nearby parks. It was exciting, dangerous and above all, fun. Even when everything went perfectly well (which was only occasionally) with the rocket reaching its apogee (300 feet!), the parachute deploying perfectly and on the wind of a windless day, drifting into the branches of a tree. Other memorable events included launching the rocket without attaching the guide stick to the launch pad, resulting in the rocket lifting off, tipping over and streaking off like a cruise missile just over our heads. Combined with a 50mm refractor telescope and some of the best documentaries on science which were on the TV during the 1980s, my little rocket started me on a path into a scientific career.
So it is with great excitement that I watch how New Zealand is becoming a nation that will have ready access to space. We have a home-grown commercial launch provider in the form of Rocket Lab (https://rocketlabusa.com/about-us/) which has as one of its goals easy and affordable access to space. These are exciting times for those of us who have thrilled at the sight of rocket launches, seeing how humankind can send materiel and representatives --- both human and robotic --- to explore and discover. Launching spacecraft is the product of the best of human scientific endeavour, when used for peaceful purposes and the betterment of our species.
I am involved in a new programme at the University of Auckland which has as its goal the design, construction and launch of one small satellite per year. The programme is called the Auckland Programme for Space Science (APSS, http://www.apss.auckland.ac.nz/en/about.html) and it is a joint effort led by the Faculties of Science and Engineering. At the heart of the Programme is a student competition to design a 1U CubeSat. The CubeSat is a standardised format for small satellites (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CubeSat) and a 1U CubeSat takes the form of a cube with 10cm sides, see Figure 1. Packed with off-the-shelf components, CubeSats can enable a number of space-based experiments. Students from across the University are invited to form teams to enter the Mission Design Competition, and submit a proposal for a mission. The team with the best mission proposal will then go on to design, build, test and launch their satellite over the following year, when, at the same time, we will be running the mission design competition again, looking for the next team with the best mission proposal to form the basis of the build phase in the following year. The cycles of competition and construction will then be repeated. Students in the competition will need to work together in their teams to come up with a mission proposal in a way that mirrors the design process for any other significant scientific instrumentation project. Each team needs to identify a societal need or problem that can be addressed in the form of a CubeSat.
Most importantly, each team may comprise no more than 50% of members from one Faculty. Similar student competitions to design and build small satellites have been content to allow their teams to comprise only Engineering or Science students. Our competition rules demand each team comprises active members from any of the other University Faculties. In this way, we are trying to replicate in small scale the design process right from identifying a societal need, to creating a competent and compelling business case, to a through scientific analysis of the problem which can, in turn, be shown to have an engineering solution in the form of a CubeSat. In miniature then, we are mirroring how we as a society can utilise our new access to space, providing a technical solution to a societal problem. Teams for the inaugural APSS competition have formed and are working on their preliminary design review now.
"This project is about creating a culture of cross-Faculty team-work that will see students from Arts for example working with students from Science or Engineering" says Faculty of Engineering Professional Teaching Fellow Jim Hefkey (https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news-events-and-notices/news/news-2016/08/actually-it-is-rocket-science.html).
Jim Hefkey is the course co-ordinator for APSS. I am a core team member of APSS along with Professor Richard Easther (Head of Department, Physics) and Dr John Cater (Engineering). If you have any questions about the Programme, do feel free to contact me.
Dr Nicholas James Rattenbury
Rutherford Discovery Fellow
Department of Physics
The University of Auckland