Students to the Moon

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To launch student spacecraft has become very popular at universities the last few years. It is expensive but it has a few very important pros as well. It gives the students participating in the spacecraft projects hands-on experience impossible to gain by listening to lecturers and it also is very motivation for those who have the opportunity to participate. It is also used extensively as an recruitment argument.  Cubesats have been the preference for most universities, as they are affordable and manageable even for a faculty.

But some projects are more ambitious than others and since 2000, the SSETI Association has been working with a project called the European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO). The ESMO project was run entirely by students between the project start-up and when ESA took over responsibility after successfully completing Phase A in 2008. After ESA took over, they have ensured that the project has a full time follow-up from ESA staff and a secure access to the testing facilities at ESA ESTEC. The ESMO mission is the third mission within ESA’s Education Satellite Programme and builds upon the experience gained with SSETI Express (launched into LEO in 2005) and the European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO), planned for launch into GTO in late 2010.

Some 300 students from 29 Universities in 12 countries are participating in the ESMO project. The student are divided into teams, each with responsibility for a subsystem. The teams communicate over the internet, with weekly chat meetings at IRC servers, and news clients and ftp servers for sharing info and data 24/7. The teams are supported locally by an experienced supervisor, and all teams also have access to labs and computer facilities to facilitate their work. If the teams are able to deliver on schedule, and pass the major milestones and reviews, ESMO will be launched into a GTO as a secondary payload on an Ariane 5 or Soyuz rocket from Kourou in 2012.

A sister-project has also recently been started by NASA in the US. The project is called the American Student Moon Orbiter (ASMO), and is based at NASA Ames Research Center. This project is in a less mature phase than the ESMO project, and they are currently requesting information from interested parties. The project is envisioned to be launched in 2013.

Many student teams are also involved in the various GLXP teams competing to be the first private team to successfully launch, land, and operate a rover on the lunar surface. As an example, the group building the lunar rover for the Astrobotic GLXP team is from Carnegie Mellon University, and has a large student participation.

More and more universities and institutions discover the big advantages of providing hands-on education opportunities to the next generation of workers. And by giving the students the opportunity to work with advanced projects such as moon orbiters and rovers, their education has been taken to the next level. Let’s hope that this will spread worldwide, maybe we will see a JSMO, CSMO or a ISMO project in a few years?

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