Engineering Students Reach for the Sun with Revolutionary Solar Telescope

University of Sheffield engineering students aim to revolutionize solar astronomy.

A team of engineering undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Sheffield have been given the green light to build a solar telescope which they hope will revolutionize solar astronomy.

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

The multidisciplinary project team is made up of engineering and science students from a number of departments including aerospace, civil and structural, electronic, mechanical and systems engineering. The team received the go-ahead to begin constructing their final prototype after presenting the project to a Critical Design Review panel at the ESA-ESTEC Center in May.

After a rigorous design process, the team will now begin building the telescope instrumentation, which will be launched on a helium balloon up to an altitude of 25 km to collect data on Earth’s local star –  the Sun – with minimal atmospheric interference. The telescope will also be equipped with a sensor and motorized system capable of detecting the Sun’s position and pointing the telescope in the required direction.

“The SunbYte project will enable the testing of the proposed stabilization and observation system for use in future missions. We hope to revolutionize solar telescope technology and create telescopes that will become important and economically sustainable instruments for high atmosphere balloon-borne solar observations,” said Viktor Fedun, a lecturer in Control and Systems Engineering.

Yun-Hang Cho, student team Leader, added, “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 an optical telescope called PiKon which was developed by team member Mark Wrigley.

Rupert Smith, director at Astrograph Ltd. stated, “The opportunity to provide help to the project with the supply of a customized 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.

To learn more about the SunbYte project, visit the University of Sheffield Faculty of Engineering website.