in Space

Space telescope tackles skills shortage

Posted 23 November 2017 · Add Comment

The skills gap in the UK has been delivered a fresh blow after a team of engineering students from Sheffield University - with a little help from Harmonic Drive UK - successfully launched a new solar telescope mounted on a high-altitude balloon.



The SunbYte project has been sponsored, in part, by precision gearing specialist Harmonic Drive UK who helped educate the students on the use of precision actuation for the project.

The Sheffield University Nova Balloon Lifted Solar Telescope (SunbYte) team — made up of students and academics from a range of engineering and science backgrounds at Sheffield University — successfully launched the solar telescope from Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, at 9:30am on October 20, 2017.

The telescope was lifted to around 30km above the Earth's surface by a helium balloon and will collect vital data to help scientists develop defences against solar flares.

"Traditionally, ground-based solar observation telescopes can take up to five years to develop and the resulting images are distorted by higher levels of the Earth's atmosphere," explained Dr. Viktor Fedun, lead academic advisor to the project from the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield.

"One of the biggest challenges we faced was weight and accuracy. As a result, we've used innovative manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing and incorporated novel components such as a high-precision actuator that features a strainwave gear supplied by one of our sponsors, Harmonic Drive UK.

"Used previously on space projects such as NASA's Mars Rover, Harmonic Drive's actuator allowed us to precisely control the gimbal on which the telescope was mounted. Not only did this allow us to perform very precise pan-and-tilt movements to produce accurate solar observations, the actuator was capable of delivering a torque output of up to 147Nm with a gear ratio of 160:1, which meant it was very powerful yet very lightweight."

"We were able to complete the design and development of the telescope in less than a year," explained the student-lead Yun-Hang Cho. "The short development cycle of the project gave us practical, hands-on experience of working with the latest technologies used in today's engineering industry.

"A traditional project can take up to ten years to develop and by the time it's finished the technology is already obsolete, which means that when students enter the world of work, they're already starting on the back foot. This is why it was valuable to receive training from Harmonic Drive on the latest actuation systems in use in the aerospace sector today."
 

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