The Space Environment and Radio Engineering (SERENE) Group in the School of Engineering are collaborating with the University of Malta to develop a PocketQube pico-satellite. It will study the properties of the Earth’s ionosphere, which is an ionised region of the upper atmosphere. Variations in the ionosphere can affect the operation of communications systems and navigation systems such as GPS.

The project, led by Dr Ing. Marc Anthony Azzopardi and Dr Ing. Andrew Sammut from the University of Malta, aims to launch in 2018. It will pave the way for a larger swarm of eight similar satellites to better monitor the conditions in the ionosphere.

The Birmingham team is leading on the development of the payload, drawing on expertise in mitigating the effects of the space environment on radio systems. A PhD student, Jonathan Camilleri, has been working with counterparts in Malta to develop the systems required.

Professor Matthew Angling, head of the SERENE research group at the University of Birmingham said ‘Developing the technology for miniature satellites requires innovative use of low-cost commercial components, such as those found in smartphones. The relatively cheap pico-satellites bring space-grade technology within reach of universities and offer a unique way of monitoring the planet.’

The satellite is planned to launch in 2018. In Malta, the project is part funded by the European Union – European Social Fund and. In the UK, SERENE is supported by a Chair that has been co-sponsored by DSTL and the Royal Academy of Engineering.