A group of six Cranfield University students have been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to travel to Germany and carry out an experiment at The Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) Drop Tower facilities that could change the future of space exploration.

The students, Florian Gautier, George Kersey, Carole Le Blay, Daniyal Ahmad Durrani, Stuart Ogborne and Elioenai Sitepu are studying for PhDs or master's degrees in Astronautics and Space Engineering.  They submitted their proposal last year and were the only team selected by the ESA Education team to receive support for their experiment.

Their research aims to discover how cubesats - smaller, cheaper alternatives to traditional satellites - rebound when they land on asteroids. Asteroid exploration is increasingly a priority for space scientists, because of the potential for mining minerals, precious metals and even water. There is even potential for asteroids to become re-fuelling points for rockets on their way to Mars.

The team, which includes students from France, Germany, UK and Indonesia, has recently returned from a week long training course in Redu, Belgium, where they learned techniques and methods for conducting microgravity experiments. Before the final experiments in November this year, the students will be working on the design and engineering of their cubesats and will also produce two interim reports for the European Space Agency. This project, sponsored by the ESA using the ZARM Drop Tower in Bremen, Germany, will be carried out alongside their academic work at Cranfield.

Elioenai Sitepu, who is studying for his PhD at Cranfield, said: “This competition is a fantastic opportunity for us to work with and get feedback from the very best space engineers in Europe. It also enables us to experience the pressure of engineering a number of actual cubesats that can be used for testing. It’s very demanding to undertake a big challenge like this alongside our studies at Cranfield, but we have the full support of our lecturers who have encouraged us at every stage. It's great to know that, as well as working towards academic qualifications, we are doing something that could make a practical difference to space exploration in the future.” 

Cranfield University has a long history in space systems, having undertaken space studies since the 1960s. The University regularly works with UK research councils, the European Commission, the Royal Society British National Space Centre, and the European Space Agency.

Team Land3U from Cranfield University
Land3U team in Cranfield Space Laboratory; Elioenai Sitepu, George Kersey, Carole Le Blay, Stuart Ogborne, Florian Gautier and Daniyal Ahmad Durrani (L-R)

Notes for editors

About Cranfield University

Cranfield is an specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Cranfield Aerospace

Cranfield is the number one university in Europe for aerospace and the only university in Europe to own and run an airport and to have airline status. We have been at the forefront of aerospace technology for 70 years.

As the UK's most business-engaged University, we have long-term relationships and close commercial partnerships with many companies in the sector including Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

Our education, research and consultancy is enhanced by our world-class facilities including the National Flying Laboratory Centre - a unique national asset which provides a hands-on, flying experience, along with flight deck simulators and industrial-scale gas turbine engine test facilities used for performance and diagnostic studies. The Aerospace Integration Research Centre, a new £35 million innovative research centre which will change the design of future aircraft, is currently under construction and will open later this year.

Notable Cranfield alumni include Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce plc and Ralph Hooper, who attended the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield in 1946 and went on to become one of the UK’s most important post-war aircraft designers, creating the Hawker Harrier jump jet. 

The European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA is one of the few space agencies in the world to combine responsibility in nearly all areas of space activity: from Earth observation, space science, human spaceflight, exploration and launchers to navigation, telecommunications, technology and operations.

ESA is an international organisation with 22 Member States. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

The European Space Agency Education Programme

The European Space Agency (ESA) Education Programme has the objective to inspire and motivate young people to enhance their literacy and competence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM disciplines), and to pursue a career in these fields, in the space domain in particular. To this end, it offers a number of exciting activities that range from training and classroom activities that use space as a teaching and learning context for school teachers and pupils, to real space projects for university students.

Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM)

The Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) is a research institute of the University of Bremen focused on the investigation of gravity-dependent phenomena and space-related research. With a height of 146 meters the Bremen Drop Tower is the main laboratory of ZARM and the only laboratory of this kind in Europe. It offers the opportunity for short-term experiments in weightlessness and has acquired international renown during the last 25 years for offering microgravity conditions of the highest quality. Owing to the catapult system, a construction developed by ZARM engineers, the experiment duration has been extended to 9.3 seconds - unmatched by any other drop facility worldwide.

Due to its excellent microgravity conditions scientists from all over the world visit the Bremen Drop Tower in order to experiment in different fields of fundamental research like astrophysics, biology, chemistry, combustion, fluid dynamics, fundamental physics, and materials sciences or to conduct technology tests preparing and qualifying hardware for future space missions.