Students at the University of Leicester have started a project working towards launching their very own satellite into Earth's orbit. Over twenty undergraduates from their Physics and Astronomy department at the university are working on the project, named "Plume", helped along by a neighbouring engineering company Magna Parva by donating the main body of the satellite itself.
The CubeSat platform, created by California Polytechnic, will be used as the basis of the project. Each CubeSat costs roughly $80,000 (just over £40,000), involves standard off-the-shelf components, all contained within a small reinforced box. It's not the first university funded space mission of course, but still quite an achievement, as this will be the first CubeSat from England in space.
Aiming to be in orbit by mid-2009, one of the programme leaders, Laura Evans, from the university described what the device does:
"The University of Leicester's CubeSat project, named PLUME, started in January 2007 and aims to place an active nano-meteoroid dust detector into orbit by mid-2009. This detector will be capable of characterising the near Earth dust environment an order of magnitude better than any previously flown active detector, allowing significant science to be accomplished."
Thankfully they have the support of local organisations and businesses, which won't just help towards costs involved (as you can imagine, it's pretty bloody expensive to put anything into orbit) but also to be involved in the launch, as well as providing experience to those students for their later careers. Nice chaps indeed.