A University of Strathclyde PhD student-led project on mapping space debris was shortlisted to the final five of a prestigious new competition.

CESAER is the association of more than 50 leading universities of science and technology in Europe, including Strathclyde, and is a formal stakeholder partner of the European Research Area. It invited PhD students from member universities to pitch research ideas for its ‘Best Idea’ 2021 Competition.

The competition aims to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and address the contribution of science and technology to ecological, social and economic sustainability by linking Social Sciences and Humanities with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and emerging technologies.

An independent Evaluation Panel selected five student-led teams as finalists, including a Strathclyde project, led by Matteo Manzi, a PhD student in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The wider team includes PhD student Emma Stevenson from UP Madrid, and Vahid Nateghi from Politecnico di Milano, with support from senior academics.

Space sustainability

The expertise ranges from Artificial Intelligence to data-driven methods for dynamical systems, from estimation to uncertainty propagation. Matteo and co-lead Sai Abhishek Peddakotla are part of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence at Strathclyde, and the team is also part of the Stardust-Reloaded space project coordinated by Professor Massimiliano Vasile.

The teams’ entry “Space Sustainability: Artificial Intelligence for Atmospheric Modelling” maps how debris moves with weather and the research calls for a new Sustainable Development Goal around space.

The team produced a video to explain their concept of a mathematic, dynamic model – ILIAD (Intelligent Atmospheric Density Modelling for Space Operation)s which gives accurate data about the position of objects in space, predicting how they will move.

The other teams to make the final five are led by University College Dublin, the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Blue Engineering (TU Berlin), Hyperloop (KIT) and Second Hand Mobility (TU Berlin) have been selected as the top three who will now present their developed ideas at the CESAER Annual Meeting 2021 (CAM) online later this week, where the winner will also be announced.

Matteo Manzi said: “To make it through to the final five reflects the hard work and passion of the entire team and we’re very proud of our developed idea on space sustainability.

“I’d like to thank the entire team and everyone who supported us, and wish the three remaining teams the best of luck for October 14.”

Scientific excellence

The competition was launched in September 2020 and five finalists were invited to pursue their ideas throughout spring and summer 2021, aided by a series of workshops and mentoring sessions.

The abstracts and the developed ideas were evaluated on scientific excellence, impact and outreach and management and implementation.

CAM 2021 also will bring together experts from over 50 leading universities of science and technology from 25 countries to discuss ´Academia for the benefit of society – meeting critical challenges´.