Students from Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Blarney, Co Cork, are making the final technical adjustments to their hi-tech mini satellite before jetting off to Portugal next week to represent Ireland at the European finals of the European Space Agency (ESA) CanSat competition, where it will be strapped to a rocket and blasted a kilometre high.
Physics teacher and project supervisor Seán Foley said the students, codenamed Team Steve, are in with a real shot. “They are really committed and have worked really hard on the project,” Mr Foley said.
“We knew we were up there with the best of them at the national finals and were delighted to win. You really don’t know until you get there and see the other competition. But we are confident.”
CanSat aims to encourage an interest in space exploration among second-level students. They are challenged to build and programme a satellite that will fit inside a standard soft drinks can.
The ESA supplies each team with a kit which contains an Arduino board — a tiny computer motherboard — as well as sensors to measure temperature and pressure, and two-way radio links.
Working hard on our parachutes 👌🏼❕— Steve SMGS (@SteveSmgs) June 14, 2015
Meeting tomorrow 🎉🎉 pic.twitter.com/LVjQt4y84i
The teams must also select one or more secondary missions, and programme their CanSat to record and transmit this data.
The CanSats are then loaded on to rockets, launched to an altitude of 1km, and jettisoned.
The teams must design, build, and programme a parachute system to fire at the right time, and control their CanSat’s rate of fall at between 8m and 11m per second. The in-flight data is then transmitted to ground station laptops monitored by the students, who must collate the information for presentation to a panel of judges.
The Blarney students, Ciara O’Connell, Jennifer Murray, Sarah Sweeney, Connor Stoyle, Cormac Conway, Anna O’Connor, who were mentored by Jerry Sweeney of CIX, the Cork Internet eXchange, spent months working on their satellite, Steve 1.
It won the regional competition held in CIT in February, and then the national final held on the grounds of Birr Castle in April.
They have modified their device along the way, and will be using Steve 3, which includes an Arduino micro mini computer, in the European finals.
As well as recording temperature and pressure, Steve 3 has been fitted with an accelerometer to record speed and force — it’s so sensitive the students can tell whether their CanSat lands on soil, sand, or tarmac, and even if it’s rolling after landing.
Steve 3 has its own soft-landing system which the students have programmed to fire 50m above the ground and deploy a compressed sponge to ease its landing. And if it fails, they can override the system and send a message from their laptops to fire the system manually.
The European CanSat finals take place on Santa Cruz airfield, 60km north of Lisbon, from June 24-28.
You can follow Team Steve’s progress on their Facebook page, Steve SMGS CanSat, or on Twitter, @SteveSmgs.