UK students design their own volcano monitoring satellite using world class space science facilities
22 Jun 2017



​A team of students and staff from the University of Bristol (UoB) are designing a volcano monitoring satellite as part of the UoB satellite programme.


​Our Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) used for the first time by students from the University of Bristol​


A team of 17 students and academics from UoB have been given unique access to the Concurrent Design Facility at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) RAL Space, to design the University's first CubeSat.  The project, initially funded by the UK Space Agency, will take several years to complete.  Once designed and built, the new satellite will observe volcanoes from space and take 3D images of ash clouds*.

The team will be working on the design of the satellite and will be mentored by RAL Space experts in a special Concurrent Design Facility.  Concurrent engineering puts all design engineers and required tools together with the user in the same location at the same time. This allows for iterative design at a fast pace, with user and designers agreeing requirements and taking decisions in real time.

Dr Lucy Berthoud, Space Systems Lecturer in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, said: “This is the first time that RAL Space  have allowed students to use their facility.  We are really excited for our students to have the opportunity to work in this state-of-the-art facility and would like to thank RAL Space and the UK Space Agency for helping to make this happen."

“We are using the RAL Space Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) for training and educational purposes is great to see." Says STFC project principle investigator, Dr Dan Peters. “This is a new use of the RAL Space CDF were we are bringing together the next generation of space scientists and engineers from Bristol to interact with our experts". “It is incredibly rewarding seeing the students produce novel solutions to the challenges of working in this environment".

Dr Matt Watson, Reader in Natural Hazards from the School of Earth Sciences, added: “It is really unusual for UK universities to build a satellite.  Once the University of Bristol-built satellite has been launched, we hope to receive ground-breaking images of volcanic ash. It is great that space experts and students have come together to work on the project and we are delighted that we are encouraging the next generation of space scientists and engineers." Jenny Jobling, a 4th year Aerospace engineering student said “Working on a real-life mission is very motivating for me". 

The project team includes aerospace engineers Dr Lucy Berthoud and Dr Mark Schenk who will work with Bristol's award-winning volcanology colleagues: Dr Matt Watson and Dr Helen Thomas.

*During the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010, European airspace closure resulted in costs of £200m a day for airlines. 

For more information please contact: RAL Space Enquiries