A team from the University of Glasgow has won a government-run competition to develop a climate change satellite for launch from the UK.

The 10 students designed a satellite to analyse shorelines and coastal vegetation to help scientists and policymakers understand the impact of climate change on coastal regions, as part of the Nanosat Design Competition, run by the UK Space Agency and Department for Transport.

The winning team from Glasgow, named OirthirSAT, beat more than 40 teams from across the UK, aged between 16 and 37, with the judges praising their entry for identifying a clear way to tackle climate change and test new technologies.

The UK is set to become the first country in Europe to host small satellite launches in 2022, building on the UK’s leading small satellite industry and creating high skilled jobs across the country. This will also help UK scientists use space technology to help tackle global challenges, including climate change.

“Satellite technology plays a crucial role in monitoring our climate and it is fantastic to see so many innovative ideas to help tackle the most pressing issue facing our planet,” said Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency. 

“My congratulations go to the winners from the University of Glasgow for their excellent design.

“The countdown to the first satellite launch from UK soil is on and this will be a historic year for our space sector. Being the first country in Europe to offer launch will boost our satellite industry further, creating hundreds of new jobs across the UK.”

The Nanosat Design Competition opened in November 2021, with aspiring space scientists invited to design a small satellite suitable for launch from the UK to help inform solutions to climate change.

Five teams were chosen from the initial entries to go through to the final stage, which included a four-month mentoring programme with space sector experts. The OirthirSAT team was announced as overall winner at a ceremony with Dr Bate and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer during the Farnborough International Airshow.

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Freya Muir, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow on the OirthirSAT team, said: “We’re so proud to have won the competition and have all our hard work recognised by the sector. It’s not just a win for us and the university, but for coastal stakeholders and decision-makers who will get valuable use from our data.

“This is an incredible opportunity, and it’s hugely exciting to be able to develop our winning design to help protect our coastal communities against climate change.”

Joe Gibbs, a PhD student and OirthirSAT’s Programme Engineering Manager, said: “The last eight months have been a steep learning curve and we’re delighted that the hard work has culminated in the winning proposal. This project has really showcased the current potential in the UK space sector, and we hope to demonstrate further cooperation amongst companies in our proposal to study the effects of climate change on UK coastlines.

“I’m excited to not only refine the OirthirSAT proposal in the next phase of the design process, but to also develop an expansive outreach programme to showcase the UK space sector to future engineers and scientists.”

Glasgow’s OirthirSAT team will use the prize money to build their satellite with ongoing support from the competition’s mentors, to help develop their proposal from design to build, with a view to launching from the UK in the coming years.

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