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Asteroids and Space Debris – Space for Education

Credit: ESA – P. Carrill, http://www.c-space-eu.org/deliverables/d/d_1200.pdf, http://sen.com/news/esa-deploys-first-orbital-debris-test-radar-in-spain

Peter McGinty from the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Strathclyde talks to Glasgow City of Science about engaging a new generation.

I’d like to talk to you about Stardust.

Not Stardust the film. Not Stardust the WWE wrestler. Not Stardust the song. Not Stardust the NASA mission from the late 90s.

No, I want to talk to you about Stardust, the European Commission funded Marie Curie FP7 ITN Training and Research Network…

Oh, that one!??

Yeah – that one.

Firstly, let’s agree a basic fact:

Asteroids and space debris represent a significant hazard for space and terrestrial assets. In recent years it has become clear that the increasing population of space debris could lead to catastrophic consequences in the near term resulting in Kessler Syndrome (where the density of objects in orbit is high enough that collisions could set off a chain reaction which could result in satellites or shuttles or space stations being jeopardised and even potentially losing safe access to space) is more likely than when it was first proposed in 1978.

Although statistically an impact with a large (~10 km) to medium (~300 m) sized, or diameter, asteroid is unlikely, it is not negligible as the recent case of the asteroid Apophis has demonstrated. Furthermore, impacts with smaller size objects, between 10 m to 100 m diameter, occur more frequently and are dangerous for humans and assets on Earth and in space.

Stardust is working on these issues. Our researchers are based in universities, companies, institutions and observatories across Europe. The idea is to integrate multiple disciplines, from robotics, to applied mathematics, from computational intelligence to astrodynamics, to find practical and effective solutions to the asteroid and space debris issues.

This is one of the reasons that Stardust is innovative and exciting. It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that Theoretical Physicists, Applied Mathematicians and Engineers often do not make ideal companions, but it’s this cross pollination of ideas, research and experience that may lead to one of those serendipitous conversations which often provide the right conditions for an imaginative spark which can then go on to fire the creative engines.

One of the ways in which we hope to achieve our goals is through our Outreach schools initiatives. Stardust recently ran a pilot project in association with the University of Strathclyde’s MUSE (Models of University-Schools Engagement) programme and SSERC (Scottish Schools Education Research Centre) to have elements of asteroid research introduced as part of the curriculum in schools. This will be a pilot project in partnership with the Research Council UK, the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement and the Science Learning Network. Initially working with ten schools, we are looking to extend this pilot to other schools and to include research on space debris.

As part of our Outreach activities this is in particular a wonderful opportunity to engage students just as they are getting ready to make their higher education choices. We have the chance to show them the incredible real life applications of the science they are studying. We can show them a diverse and engaged group of researchers working hard to make a difference in the world and enjoying themselves while they do it.

We hope to engage an entirely new group of potential STEM students and especially inspire a new generation of women scientists.

Stardust: Pushing the boundaries of space research to save our future.

As part of the University of Strathclyde’s Engage with Strathclyde week, Stardust is hosting an event “Asteroids and Space Debris: Space for Education” on Thursday, 7th of May at 10am. Come along to this event and see more about how Stardust will engage with policy makers and education professional to address ways of introducing cutting edge science into classrooms.


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