An European satellite to be designed and built by students has launched successfully from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia’s northern spaceport. After blasting off atop a Kosmos 3M launcher, the satellite was in contact with ground control by 10:29, central European time. Also on board the Kosmos rocket were satellites from China, Iran, and the UK-funded Topsat, an Earth observation microsatellite. The SSETI Express (SSETI stands for Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative) was primarily designed as a technology tester for a forthcoming larger mission, the European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO). It carried with it three so-called pico satellites. These, weighing in at around a kilogram each, deployed successfully within two hours of the launch. The satellite will also return images of earth, and serve as a radio transponder.
ESA’s education department launched the SSETI project in 2000. The aim was to get European students involved in real space missions. Students from 23 different universities took part in designing and developing the satellite, with much of the collaborative work being done online.