A team of science and engineering students have developed an innovative ‘space web' experiment which will be carried on a rocket from the Arctic Circle to the edge of space this week.

The experiment, known as Suaineadh, was developed by a team of 20 graduate and postgraduate students from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Despite its humble beginnings, Suaineadh could pave the way for the development of a wide range of space construction projects.

Weather permitting, it will be launched from the Esrange Space Centre in Northern Sweden on Sunday 18 March or Tuesday 20 March as part of the REXUS (Rocket-Borne Experiments for University Students) programme, a joint Swedish-German venture.

When the rocket reaches an altitude of approximately 70km, it will eject the central hub section of the Suaineadh apparatus from its nosecone into a low-gravity environment.

The hub will release a two-metre-square web, weighted in four corners, which will begin spinning and deploy a rigid structure maintained by centrifugal force.

In low gravity, unlike on earth, the structure would be strong enough to act as a foundation for construction, which could be carried out by specially-designed robots.

Design validation

According to the University of Glasgow press release, Suaineadh will fall back to earth after several minutes of testing.

The Suaineadh team hope that data retrieved from its onboard sensors and cameras will validate their design and improve the next iteration of the module.

The launch of Suaineadh is the culmination of three years of collaboration between the students in Glasgow and Stockholm.

Malcolm McRobb, the University of Glasgow postgraduate student leading the project's mechanical design team, said: “A web such as this, permanently deployed in space, will give engineers a stable and robust foundation for larger structures to be built on.

“It will also cut down the amount of equipment that each space mission needs to take into orbit, which will bring down the cost of space construction and help make ambitious projects more financially viable.

“It could lead to the development of solar sails to allow chemical-free propulsion, orbital solar panels to generate solar power more effectively, or the development of large-scale antennae to help us learn more about the universe.”