Skip to main content

Summer School Alpbach 2019

The topic of the summer school was "Geophysics from Space using Micro- or Nano-Satellite Constellations" and took place from July 16-25.

It was the end of April when an email starting with the sentence "We are pleased to inform you that your application has been accepted and that we can offer you a place in the Summer School Alpbach 2019." made me smile. I was accepted, alongside 59 other students from the ESA membership countries to the 43rd summer school in Alpbach, Austria.

Team Red

On Tuesday everything started. After the first lectures about magnetic and gravity fields, we were assigned to teams. My team was team red - the team name "Red Hot Chili Plumes" was established very early and the mission name "RUBIKS - Reconstruction of Undercrust Behaviour with Interconnected (K)cubeSatellites" was also not long in coming. One of my favourite moments in the summer school was, when a team member of the science group started the Mission Objectives and Requirements Review-presentation with "And this is what our engineers were doing for the past three days", while showing our logo.

Mission Objectives

The RUBIKS mission had the purpose to investigate mantle composition and dynamics - particularly mantle plume formation and their role in plate tectonics. It was a joint mission of the magnetic field and gravity field. One objective was the lower mantle density, which should be evaluated by the gravity measurements. The second objective was measuring and detecting the magnetic field of the induced current.

The mission required two constellations with 4 CubeSats each. Two cartwheel-helix formations were chosen with a distance of 100-200 km between the satellites within the formation.

Diurnal and Nocturnal

In Alpbach, there was basically no time for sleeping. Lectures started at 9 a.m. and due to mission preparation, evenings (or nights) were never-ending. And this was exactly, what I liked so much about the summer school. We ate together, worked together and did yoga together - everything was very familial and making friends in this atmosphere was quite easy. The most special moments in these 10 days were:

Late Night Yoga

To take a break, we decided to do a bit of yoga in the sports hall of the school house. We had a very good photographer who was always in the right place at the right time and therefore this picture was taken.

Lunar Eclipse

At the beginning of the summer school, we were already able to see a lunar eclipse - a perfect start for a space-related summer school!

CubeSat Model

We started to create a model of our RUBIKS CubeSat. One version on the computer, and one out of some cardboard boxes. There's always a difference between expectation and reality.

50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

The 50th anniversary made the summer school even more special.

Hiking in the Alps

Whilst in one of the most beautiful parts of Austria, we couldn't miss out on doing a hike. Besides reaching the summit cross, we went swimming in a lake, saw some cows and took a ride with an alpine toboggan - I don't know if this translates well, we call it "Sommerrodelbahn".

Birthday Cake

In the course of the summer school, four birthdays were celebrated. One of them was my 22nd birthday when I got an amazing chocolate cake and the whole summer school sang happy birthday.

Scientists vs. Engineers

We were in the same room, but communication was a big issue not only between the scientists and the engineers, but also within each group. Nevertheless, we were a team and therefore we needed to talk to each other to understand the requirements of both parties - if this was a good idea? It depends (because it always depends when scientists start talking). At first, it came out that we needed 14.000 CubeSats, which is not only expensive but also ridiculous to plan and develop. The engineers started with 3 CubeSats and so, after a big discussion, we were able to meet somewhere in the middle and decided to use eight satellites.

Last Moments in Alpbach

The last couple of hours before the deadline on Wednesday midnight were very stressful. We were writing our report and created a presentation. Afterwards I was literally falling into my bed and barely came out of bed for the presentations, which started at 9 in the morning. By totally ignoring the outreach part in the presentation, the jury asked us to create a slogan for the mission and incredibly in less than one minute, a team member came up with "RUBIKS - Solving the puzzle of the Earth’s mantle" which was followed by a big applause.

The picture shows us, Team Red, completely exhausted, but happy after the presentation!

In the evening we had a big farewell dinner at the congress centre and won the award for the most innovative mission. I'm very glad, that I was able to attend this summer school and want to thank FFG and ESA for this great opportunity and Jacob Smith for helping me with the blog post!