HKU postgraduate flies high with solar telescope balloon project

30 September 2018

University of Hong Kong MSc student Gianni Heung has received a HK$ 50,000 grant from the Croucher Foundation to continue her participation in a near space project.

The Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering postgraduate is a member of the Sheffield University Nova Balloon Telescope (SunbYte) project, organised in cooperation with the European Space Agency and its partners Rocket and Balloon Experiments for University Students.

SunbYte is seeking to design a low-cost telescope and focusing system that could replace current rocket-based technology for solar observations. The significant investment in mirrors and other hardware required to obtain a reasonable image of the Sun is one of the reasons why current Earth-based solar telescopes are so expensive.

The idea is to use a high-altitude balloon to lift the solar telescope above the interference of Earth’s lower atmosphere to observe the Sun in the H-alpha spectral line and capture solar images. These images are key to understanding the Sun and the prediction of solar flares. The technology is closely related to modern telecommunication and navigation systems.

Having completed her undergraduate degree at Sheffield, Heung was invited to lead the electronic team in producing the second-generation SunbYte for her MSc capstone project. She redesigned the gimbal and conducted a thermal vacuum test at NASA.

SunbYte is a collaboration started in 2016 by University of Sheffield students, supported by staff from its Space Systems Laboratory and Solar Wave Theory Group, and advisors from other departments and UK universities.

In September 2018, the SunbYte team successfully launched the device on the High Altitude Student Platform from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility base in New Mexico, US. The device was then recovered and returned to Sheffield for analysis and to improve the next iteration.

The results of the team’s previous launch from the Swedish Space Corporation Esrange Space Center were published in April 2018 at the European Space Agency’s 2nd Symposium on Space Education Activities, held in Budapest, Hungary.