Our amazing Aerospace Engineering students have been taking to the skies during their work with Gravity Industries.
PhD students Abhishek Gautam and Lewis Munshi, and five undergraduate students from the Aerospace department have had the amazing opportunity to work on flight dynamics, wing design and developing a jet suit exoskeleton for Gravity Industries. Truly putting engineering theory into practice.
20 July 2019 marks 50 years since man walked on the moon. But what about the next 50? We spoke to Professor Lucy Berthoud about space tourism, life on Mars and her enduring fascination with space exploration.
It’s 50 years since US astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first ‘small step’ on the moon, and as he poignantly stated at the time, the Apollo 11 Moon landing was unquestionably a giant leap for mankind. Half a century on as a spacefaring species, government-funded programs have seen us inhabit a space station, master low-Earth orbit and make incredible strides in the development of satellite technology. But, in terms of the advancement of space exploration, what will the next 50 years bring us? What will be happening in the skies above us in 2069?
Bristol University’s Professor Lucy Berthoud, a lecturer within the Faculty of Engineering who teaches the space aspects of the Aerospace Engineering degree, believes it could be a great deal.
“Hopefully, in a few years, people will be travelling in low earth orbit just as frequently as they travel now on commercial aircraft.”
“In the short term, we will see the establishment of space tourism in low earth orbit and if they can manage the safety aspects, hopefully, in a few year’s time, people will be travelling in low earth orbit just as frequently as they travel now on commercial aircraft.” Space tourism is space travel for recreational purposes – and the possibilities, including orbital, suborbital and lunar, are seemingly endless. It is no wonder, then, that it is an area of great interest to a new breed of space entrepreneur, with dot.com billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos investing heavily.
Another field where the technology is currently evolving before our eyes is in the development of reusable rockets. Indeed, space companies are ploughing millions into this area with the promise of huge rewards. The prospect of sending rockets into space and then bringing them back to Earth is a tantalising one. As Professor Berthoud attests: “Being able to recover rockets is a necessity in terms of making space tourism financially viable.” At the moment, sending a rocket to the International Space Station costs in the region of £48 million and each rocket can only be used once. Bezos, founder of spaceflight company Blue Origin, famously compared this to using a Boeing 747 to fly across the country once and then throwing the plane away. He has a point.
Galactic gas stations
You would think that predicting long-term developments in space technology is a much more difficult prospect, but this doesn’t faze Professor Berthoud one bit. “There’s a path you have to follow for space exploration. It’s an obvious progression, we’re nothing if not logical in my industry!”
The first mid to long-term development she expects to see is an inhabited base on the Moon. “There is debate as to whether it should be the Moon or Mars,” she states. “But it seems to me that the Moon would be a strong progression. It’s much closer, comparatively simpler to resupply and if things did go wrong, it’s easier to get people back. Mars is a much higher risk.” Professor Berthoud’s comments link closely to the Deep Space Gateway, a proposed NASA programme that would bring astronauts to the moon to operate a cis-lunar space station. The concept has generated a wealth of research since 2017, especially because NASA’s stated goal, under the current Trump administration, is to return to the moon before going to Mars.
According to Professor Berthoud, other possibilities include the mining of the asteroids (“That has to be done”), the establishment of fuel depots in space – the so-called ‘galactic gas stations’ – as well as the research and exploration of exoplanets, the bodies beyond our own solar system.
“In terms of the next 50 years, discovering life remains the biggest milestone of them all.”
Primarily, she believes that looking for life on other planets remains the ultimate goal. “It’s clearly challenging and deeply difficult to establish whether there is life. For instance, recent research indicates that there is an underwater lake under the ice near the south pole of Mars, which could be a suitable place for life to develop. Mars is fascinating. In terms of the next 50 years, discovering life remains the biggest milestone of them all.”
The sustained activity and increasing investment in the fantastic potential of space from both government agencies and Silicon Valley billionaires such as Musk and Bezos is welcome. The growth in the ‘everyday’ applications of space means that a lot more people can now readily see the benefits of space.
“I’ve seen a real surge of interest from students,” says Professor Berthoud. “Whereas previously somewhere in the region of 10 per cent of the aerospace engineering students would be interested in space, in the last few years, it has really jumped. These days, in the region of half the class would like to work on space projects if they can.”
“The space industry is no longer deemed to be a space-agency-dominated world, but rather an exciting commercial industry.”
But why the surge of interest? “Students are regarding space much more like an industry. Even some of my entrepreneurial students who wouldn’t have typically particularly leaned towards space are now doing so because it is no longer deemed to be a space-agency-dominated world, but rather an exciting commercial industry.”
Indeed, these are exciting times at the University of Bristol in terms of space research, with the opening of a new state-of-the-art satellite laboratory and ground station. As Professor Berthoud explains: “The lab enables students to work on University of Bristol space missions with the design and testing of our own satellites. The ground station can track satellites in orbit, and, in theory, we will be able to talk to the astronauts on the International Space Station.”
Lucy in the sky
This shift in perception of space as a commercial opportunity as opposed to the impossible stuff of dreams is something Professor Berthoud has observed closely over her career in the space industry. But what was the initial inspiration behind her fascination with space?
“When I was a kid, I really loved science fiction and so I decided I wanted to be an astronaut at the age of 11! The idea of working in space and on another planet seemed to be too good to be true. I was also fascinated by how things work and so that led me to choose engineering as a career. I really like the exploration part of space, because it appealed to the adventurous side of me.”
Now, as an inspiration to her own engineering students, Lucy hopes they will help develop the technologies, vehicles and infrastructure needed to power the next 50 years of space exploration.
Background: Professor Berthoud has worked for 25 years in Spacecraft research and in industry. She started out with a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bristol, then went to Toulouse where she studied for a PhD in Space Physics at Sup’Aero/ONERA (French National Research Organisation). She then did post-doctoral fellowships at the European Space Agency and NASA Johnson Space Centre. In 2009, Dr Berthoud started teaching at the University of Bristol and is now a Professor of Space Systems Engineering in the Aerospace Engineering department.
Sunday 23rd June is International Women in Engineering Day – we are proud to have so many amazing women working and studying here, in such a wide variety of disciplines and roles. Here are just a few…
Professor Lucy Berthoud – Professor of Space Engineering
I teach Spacecraft Systems Engineering in the Aerospace Engineering department and I also work in industry at Thales Alenia Space UK -a spacecraft design company. In industry I work on satellite design for future science missions and at the University of Bristol I work with students to help them to design and build their own satellites.
I research and develop wearable robotic devices with application in healthcare. This can lead to finding novel solutions to problems that can transform society, which I find very exciting. I also try to combine teaching and research, as working with students on these challenges can be very fulfilling.
Christine Braganza and Ella Allan (students, Department of Mechanical Engineering) and Octavia Clark (student, Engineering Design)
Christine, Octavia and Ella created ‘A Grand Gromplication’ for the 2018 Gromit Unleashed 2 charity trail with the help of our brilliant technicians. Read more.
Professor Weiru Liu – Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Research Director
My research is to investigate advanced technologies for developing data-driven intelligent autonomous systems in an increasingly connected world, so as to benefit our society and our citizens. Applications of intelligent autonomous systems are endless, from future transportation, digital health, to personal assistance and environment monitoring, to name a few.
Dr Ruzanna Chitchyan – EPSRC fellow on Living with Environmental Change and Yael Zekaria – Research Associate, Department of Computer Science
Ruzanna is providing software support as the UK’s energy system moves from a fossil fuel-based, centralised set up to a clean, localised, renewables-based alternative. Yael works on modelling skills shortages and training needs, helping to ensure that the work force is ready for such a transition. Their work is essential to ensure the UK continues to have a reliable, affordable energy supply to homes and businesses. They also focus on the societal impact of the new energy models, making sure that they lead to positive social and community building activities.
Rachael De’Ath – Senior Teaching Associate, Department of Civil Engineering
I am a Chartered Structural Engineer at Arup Bristol as well as lecturing at University. I love designing buildings and working as part of a team to deliver them. I think it is really important as it can make such a difference to many people. My particular area of interest and experience is in reuse of existing buildings which I believe is a really important part of sustainable development, as well as always being an interesting challenge as an Engineer!
Dr Karen Aplin – Senior Lecturer in Space Engineering
In this picture I’m with my colleague Dr Keri Nicoll (Universities of Bath and Reading) working on my cosmic ray and meteorological station at Snowdon Summit. I study the effects of space weather on our atmosphere and this research is part of a Welsh language outreach project run by the Royal Astronomical Society. Two Bristol Engineering undergraduate women are also working on this project – Ilham Said from the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Annabelle Bale from Engineering Mathematics.
Cara Williamson and Anouk Spelt – PhD students
Cara and Anouk are based in the Bio-Inspired Flight lab under the supervision of Dr Shane Windsor. Together, they set up the Urban Gull Project which uses GPS tags to follow 11 lesser black-backed gulls nesting on roofs in Bristol. The project combines engineering and biology. They aim to investigate how urban gulls use and navigate through the urban environment to find out how they save energy and use this knowledge to improve drone navigation in cities. They have also designed and run an outreach event to inspire young people in underrepresented demographics to choose a career in STEM subjects, So far they’ve reached more than 550 young people in Bristol.
Catherine Manning – HR Officer
I see myself as facilitator – helping all staff within the Engineering Faculty not only to enjoy being at work, but to fulfill their career potential. No two days are the same! I could be supporting someone with disabilities that needs extra assistance, providing HR training on terms and conditions of employment or working on faculty-led projects that promote staff well-being. It’s a busy and varied role and I thoroughly enjoy being part of a team.
Valentina Noacco – NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Water and Environmental Engineering Research Group
Valentina works with the insurance sector to help them make more robust decisions based on their catastrophe models. By transferring methods, software and expertise on uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, this research has an impact in the real world ensuring financial resilience and better preparation for when disasters hit.
Dr Valeska Ting – Reader in Smart Nanomaterials, Department of Mechanical Engineering
I am a materials engineer working on the design, fabrication and testing of nanomaterial-based composites. The materials we develop will help us to lower the carbon dioxide emissions from transportation and will allow the adoption of more sustainable fuel sources such as renewable hydrogen.
Our second-year Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Design students did a practical experiment to see which types of vehicle travel through water as well as they run on roads.
The competition saw 190 students working in teams of three to four to design, build and test a successful amphibious vehicle. Their vehicles had to traverse the water obstacle course in less than 40 seconds and weigh in at less than 450 grams.
The purpose of the project is for the students to model and physically realise engineering systems, to manufacture working prototypes and to assess their vehicle’s performance.
And, as you can see from the video, it’s about enjoying the process too!
I realised that it would be interesting for you all, who are preparing to join UoB in the coming months, to know life functions as a University here. Hence, this post. Fasten your seatbelts and let’s go for a ride.
Time to wake up. Today is Tuesday and I have 2 lectures to attend and coursework to work on. Even though my lectures are from 11am, I prefer to wake up a bit early to prepare breakfast and do a bit of ‘planning the day ahead’. I stay in a shared private accommodation, so I grab the breakfast I require and go to the communal kitchen.
Breakfast doesn’t take long and I’m back in room by 9.30am. I generally prefer to make a TO-DO list for the day that also includes information about my extra/co-curricular engagements, if any, for the day, along with my study objectives. We do have a different sets of assignments each week and I feel it’s better to plan it to avoid missing deadlines.
I’m ready to go to my first lecture, which is on Robotics Systems. Must say that it is a very fun module, wherein we get to work with actual robots. It’s very challenging also. The Robotic Systems lecture is scheduled in the Chemistry Building, which is about a 12min walk from my place. So, I do reach on time, if you were curious 🙂
Lecture time. Today we are learning about how use a robot to explore an environment and encode a few crucial bits of information about it. Each lecture ideally lasts 50 minutes, given a few exceptions.
We also have 2 or 3 hours lectures and labs, but those generally are scheduled once a week.
Done with the lecture and now I am heading to another building called the Merchant Venturers Building to meet a few friends, who happen to be my course-mates. We are going to discuss a few ideas on the upcoming robotics assignment and head off to grab lunch at 1pm. Just to let you know, 1-2pm is the lunch hour.
Lunch done. Need to go to the next lecture now. This is one of my favourite subjects right now, because I have always been extremely intrigued by the human brain and its advanced functionalities. The lecture is on Computational Neuroscience. This lecture also lasts for an hour and is held in the Queen’s Building.
Yes, you guessed it right. A CS student like me has to walk a lot every day because we have our lectures spread out across the campus. I take it as a perk, because it saves me from gym subscriptions 🙂 Moreover, you get to take classes in different buildings, which are all architecturally varied. How cool is that!! I love architecture 🙂
Done with the lecture. Learnt about neurons and now heading to deal with my coursework, which is also on Computational Neuroscience. So, I prefer to work in the MVB (Merchant Venturers Building), because it has got the computer labs. Our lifeblood!
I am working with a few friends and we try to help each other out as and when we get stuck with something. Sometimes I also drop into my lecturer’s office to get clarity on a specific concept. But, today I hope, I don’t have to do that. I believe I shall be able to solve the problem given the resources at hand and with some collective intelligence.
Almost done with the coursework. Need a break from studies and what can be better than indulging in an Engineering talk with a lot of free pizzas. Yes, there is a talk today by a renowned faculty member on the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. So, I am tagging along with my group to attend that talk in Queen’s. I’m sure it will be fun.
That was a fun talk and loads of info! Time to call it a day from Uni. Dinner is waiting to be cooked back home and after that I need to finish my coursework.
Have finished dinner. Met my housemates. Chitted-chatted. Let’s get done with the coursework.
Coursework done and dusted. Now the thing that is left is verification and validation of what I have done as part of it. I’ll take this up tomorrow with my friends.
Extra-curricula’s on. Yeah, I know, I am odd. I go for a run every day at this hour. Fresh air gives me a fresh mind. I should mention that Bristol is very safe and I’ve not had any problems.
Got back. Re-hydrated my body and now I wish to engage in some co-curriculas. Food for the brain is important too. I am going to watch a few TEDx videos now for about 40 minutes. I have made the list of videos to watch in the morning. That’s how I know the time it will require.
Woow!! Great videos. Awesomely inspiring and intriguing. Was a good day. Should sleep now. Tomorrow is a new day and will be a new schedule too.
Hope you all have got an idea of how an ordinary day looks like here. Some days are quiet, some are really eventful. Some can be productive and some might be pretty annoying too. But as we say, variety is the spice of life. Challenges make it more exciting. There are loads of opportunities and things to do here than just study.
The mathematics of chaos theory is useful for studying non-linear dynamic systems in Mechanical and Civil Engineering. Our technician Mictroy has built a ‘chaos machine’, a pendulum based teaching tool to help Engineering students get their heads around the theory.
The 2015 earthquake in Nepal was devastating. 9,000 people died, 3.5 million were left homeless and whole communities were flattened.
Our Civil Engineers have been working with local experts, the Government of Nepal, the Universities of Kathmandu and Tribhuvan, Arup International Development, NSET, Save the Children and school pupils in Nepal to save lives by making buildings and communities safer – starting with schools.
The project, led by Professor Anastasios Sextos, combines cutting edge research and laboratory-based testing with co-produced solutions developed with and by communities in Nepal.
For the project to succeed the solutions must be affordable, locally-sourced and acceptable to local people. During the last field trip our researchers spoke to lots of Nepalese people who witnessed the devastation caused by collapsed buildings in the 2015 quake.
We’re using our seismic shaking table to see how replicas of Nepalese classrooms, strengthened using novel yet cost-effective techniques, perform in earthquake conditions. ~We are also developing a simple, state-of-the-art phone app that lets local engineers identify at-risk schools and make them safer while facilitating informed decision making at a central level.
All our research is supported by workshops and on-site training so, aided by our local and international partners, we’re leaving behind the skills and expertise for communities to rebuild Nepal safely.
The team are heading out to Nepal again in April and will be updating us on this exciting project.
Our second year Civil Engineering MEng students compete to create the most resilient structure using the knowledge gained through their course. The shaking table runs a series of greater magnitude shakes until only one tower remains intact.
MEng in Civil Engineering students learn about the design of steel and concrete structures in the context of realistic multi-storey buildings incorporating common beam, column and slab arrangements.
Computer Science student Tom has built a working replica of the Enigma Machine used to send encoded messages during World War Two. He spent a six week internship in our Engineering Hackspace building the replica, which is now being used by students and school children to explore codes and number theory.
Bristol is a world leader in cryptography and our Computer Science students learn all about keeping systems like power stations and the NHS safe from hackers.
Find out more at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/computerscience/
Unmanned aerial vehicles are rarely out of the headlines. The world’s first driverless passenger drone has already been tested in China, and major companies have begun trialling drone deliveries to customers.
But despite this huge acceleration in popularity there’s a number of challenges which drone manufacturers are facing, not least the matter of urban drone navigation. To investigate this problem, PhD students Cara Williamson and Anouk Spelt are studying urban gulls to understand the most efficient flight paths through urban landscapes. We spoke to Cara to learn more about their project.
Drones could benefit society in so many ways, from the obvious, such as parcel delivery, to the life-changing, such as being the first point of contact for emergency services.
“The Urban Gull Project was started in 2016 by myself and Anouk Spelt as part of our PhD research. We’re supervised by Dr Shane Windsor who won a grant to start the Bio-Inspired Flight Lab. Over millions of years, nature has optimised for every environment – urban gulls are particularly adept at coping with the complex wind flows around city buildings. UAVs could use similar flight strategies. Drones could benefit society in so many ways, from the obvious, such as parcel delivery, to the life-changing, such as being the first point of contact for emergency services.
“The project brings together biology and engineering, using GPS devices on 11 lesser black-backed gulls in Bristol. The tiny backpacks (under 3% of the bird’s weight) track location, altitude, speed and 3D acceleration data which tells us whether the birds are soaring or flapping. Preliminary research showed how gulls position themselves in updrafts on the windward side of buildings to improve control and mitigate risks from gusts. These wind-highways help them maintain altitude so they can soar for a third of their flight time. We’re now seeing that gulls choose routes to foraging grounds that save them energy, even if they are twice the shortest distance.
Battery life is a big problem for drones. Batteries are heavy and limit their range and endurance.
“The wind modelling and path planning method I’ve been using is very quick and could be run in advance of a UAV making a delivery, for example, in order to pick a route that keeps energy costs to a minimum. Battery life is a big problem for drones. Batteries are heavy and limit their range and endurance.
“We collect habitat and weather data in and around Bristol. It’s the perfect location as it combines a diverse built environment with an established gull population. Over the last few decades, the birds’ distribution has moved away from traditional seaside haunts. It’s thought that cities offer warmer temperatures, protected nesting sites and rich pickings from our litter. Anouk compares the gulls’ foraging behaviour and energetic costs with their rural cousins to establish what is really going on. Despite being referred to as seagulls, our birds don’t visit the sea at all during breeding season (March-August), which is why we use the term urban gulls (first coined by our collaborator and South West gull expert of over 30 years, Pete Rock).
“Having followed the gulls for three years, we’ve seen a gull laying an egg, held hatching eggs and watched chicks taking their first flight. Our work has taken us to the top of landfills, quarries, the waste treatment centre and up many tall buildings and church spires. The gulls have distinct traits – we even named some of them after our favourite Game of Thrones characters; Arya (quite feisty – tried to peck us); Sansa (the most beautiful); Lady Brienne (the largest) and Tyrion (the smallest). We also got very attached to the first season’s chicks and learnt the hard way that nature can be quite brutal. It would be good to mend the human-gull relationship. We want to get the message out that when animals thrive in the environments we create, they can teach us so much. It’s vital to study and conserve the natural world.
“At the moment, we’ve got a packed programme of workshops in schools. Pupils design and fly drones and find out about bio-inspired engineering and wind pattern modelling. We’ve had some really encouraging feedback and we hope we’ve inspired a new generation of kids to take STEM subjects that they wouldn’t have previously considered. We were really pleased that this outreach programme was recognised when the project was shortlisted for the 2018 Airbus Diversity Awards.”