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The Alpbach Summer School - Geophysics in Austria

  • 28 August 2019

WITS student member Hannah Collier was selected to take part in the Alpbach Summer School 2019.

Hannah writes:

From 16-25 July, I took part in the 43rd annual Alpbach Summer School alongside 57 university students from across Europe. The summer school is organised by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) and ESA. It is set in the village of Alpbach, located in the beautiful Austrian Alps. This year’s topic was “Geophysics from Space Using Micro- or Nano-Satellite Constellations”. The aim of the school this year was to design a brand new space mission in just ten days that studies the gravitational and magnetic field of Earth from space!

After an opening series of lectures that covered existing space missions, space mission design and instrumentation, we were split into four teams: Blue, Orange, Green and Red. The lectures provided us with the scientific and technical background necessary to formulate clear scientific objectives and requirements just in time for the objectives and requirements review! With the help of team tutors and roving tutors each team developed their mission design past the preliminary design review and final design review stages, ultimately culminating in an extensive report and an hour long presentation given on the last day of the summer school.

As part of team Orange, our mission ‘Orpheus’ was to study the Earth’s outer core in order to gain insight into the geodynamo mechanism behind Earth’s magnetic field. Orpheus would build on the SWARM dataset, as well as complementing it with additional measurements of the ionospheric current densities and hence providing corrections to the ionospheric current day-side measurements.

Another team, team Green designed GRAVL: Gravity observations by Vertical Laser ranging. GRAVL would study mass redistribution in the upper mantle before, during and after earthquakes. It would achieve this by measuring the vertical component of the gravity vector of low-orbiting satellites from a high orbit laser ranging platform. The GRAVL mission was chosen to be studied further at the Post-Alpbach event run ESA Academy in November.

The expert Alpbach jury awarded the following Oscars:

  • Best Crisis Management: Team Blue (MAGMA-C).
  • Best Science Case: Team Orange (Orpheus).
  • Best Presentation: Team Orange (Orpheus).
  • Most Innovative Mission: Team Red (RUBIKS).
  • Best Technical Case: Team Green (GRAVL).

However, it wasn’t all work for us. On the Saturday of the summer school we were treated to a scenic hike in the picturesque Austrian Alps followed by lunch by a lake where we could speak with other participants from across Europe.

The Alpbach Summer School was a fantastic learning experience. I had the brilliant opportunity to work on a space mission with people from all different scientific and engineering backgrounds and nationalities. Attending the Alpbach Summer School was a once in a lifetime experience and I’d like to thank WITS for their support and sponsorship.

Each team’s final report and presentation can be found here.