Leicester students win out of this world competition for satellite ideas

Mohammed Siddiqui and Fiona Poda form part of the team proposing to track eutrophication through remote sensors.

A team of students from Leicester has won thousands of pounds in a competition run by the UK Space Agency calling for innovative ideas on how satellites can improve life on Earth.

Fiona Poda, 22, Mohammed Siddiqui and Domen Gostincar, both 20, from the University of Leicester, will receive £12,000 and expert advice on how to develop their idea after being named group winners in the SatelLife Competition.

Their winning idea was to use satellites to monitor, track and assess the risk of the development of eutrophication in bodies of water through remote sensors. Eutrophication is the process by which a body of water becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients, and the effects can be harmful to health and a danger to ecosystems.

The data would feed a warning scale according to warning signs and risks, prompting increased monitoring.

Now in its fifth year, the SatelLife Competition awards young people a share of £50,000 for the best ideas for how to use data collected from space to benefit daily life, with ideas this year including apps to help energy consumers, protect plans vital for carbon absorption and improve the prediction of earthquakes.

Mohammed Siddiqui said: “I’m ecstatic that our revolutionary and pioneering idea on tracking eutrophication using a satellite platform has excelled and triumphed at the SatelLife Competition. Our water bodies today are increasingly being polluted with industrial and agricultural waste and these actions are putting our marine ecosystems at high risk of getting eutrophicated. Therefore, our satellite will provide vital data to help track and manage the risks for the development of eutrophication.

“I would like to continue working on further developing our idea beyond the concept stage with the goal of converting it into a reality and launching it into space. My aspiration is to build a career in the space industry as I aim to innovatively and sustainably contribute to help transform the space sector.”

This year will see the first satellite launch take place from a UK spaceport, with Virgin Orbit’s horizontal launch system set to lift off from Spaceport Cornwall. This will be followed by vertical launch from Shetland’s SaxaVord Spaceport and Space Hub Sutherland.

Leicester plays an important role in the UK space sector, with the growth of Space Park Leicester, significant space science and Earth Observation (EO) expertise at the University, and the National Space Centre engaging hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “The countdown is on for Britain to become the first nation in Europe to offer small satellite launch, building on our world-leading satellite manufacturing industry. Seeing satellites launch from the UK for the first time will be a huge moment and one that I hope will inspire people to think about the opportunities in our growing space sector.

“It is fantastic to see young people so passionate about using space tech to improve our lives and my congratulations go to Awais, the team from the University of Leicester and all the runners-up. It is this imagination and creativity that will ensure the UK space sector continues to grow.”

Satellites support the economy and everyday life, and this competition gives people aged 11-22 the chance to test their ideas with space experts and perhaps one day become part of one of the UK’s fastest growing industries which already employs 47,000 people.

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake said: “It has been amazing to see millions of people inspired by my journey to space and I hope that, when satellites launch from the UK, it will help to show young people that there are all sorts of jobs in the space sector. 

“Satellites are playing a huge role in our daily lives, from monitoring climate change, to watching television and it is amazing to see the fantastic ideas for ways they can improve life on Earth. A huge congratulations to the team from the University of Leicester and all the runners-up.” 

The UK Space Agency is committed to championing the power of space to inspire people and to offer greener, smarter solutions for businesses, supporting a more sustainable future. 

The judging panel was made up of experts including industry representatives and the UK Space Agency, Satellite Applications Catapult and European Space Agency (ESA).