Hello! We are PIOneERS, and we are a group of students from the University of Birmingham who recently got accepted on the 24th Cycle of the REXUS/BEXUS programme.

Okay okay … I feel that we should backtrack a little bit, so let’s start from the very beginning. I am Jonathan, a PhD student within the Space Environment and Radio Engineering Research Group at the University of Birmingham. My topic of study is mainly the development of a small ionospheric electron density sensor that, hopefully, someday will actually go into space and with the data from it, other scientists around the world can do some ionospheric science.

In the meantime, the German and Swedish space agencies, DLR and SNSB, organise a programme where they supply university students with a launch opportunity on board a sounding rocket, to launch their proposed experiments on either a stratospheric balloon or a sounding rocket – REXUS, which, is a great opportunity to test this new sensor.

So after a bit of head hunting, we quickly assembled a team. Lucy, Matthew and Mashiat joined the team to develop, and take care of, the mechanical engineering aspects of the whole experiment. And behold, the PIOneERS experiment was born! We submitted a proposal, and to our surprise, we were shortlisted to go to ESTEC in the Netherlands and present our experiment.

So, we packed our bags, and off to ESTEC we went. Plane, train, bus … and eight hours later there we were, on a beautiful, sunny, cold winter day in the small town of Noordwijk by the sea. The second we arrived in front if the ESTEC main gates I took a big sigh of relief, we had made it on time even though our train had been delayed.

I will not lie, entering ESTEC comes with a certain feeling of awe with it. We were told not to take any photos inside the facility; however, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the ESA flag and sign just outside of the main gate.

Two days went by really fast, and the time for our presentation arrived too. I was very nervous. We had been practicing for a few hours the previous night, and now that the actual thing had arrived, I was panicking. What stumped me was that I had no idea what my opening line should be. Then somehow, a I managed to produce a simple “Good morning”, and I just ran away with the presentation. Everyone did their ultimate best, and we were very pleased with ourselves for the result of the presentation. Now it was just time to wait and see if we had made it through or not.

So in the meantime, we found a nice bar and had a couple of beers. What better way to kill a couple of hours? After all, we weren’t going to stay in Leiden for very long, so might as well make the most of it.

After we got home, we kept working on our respective sections of the projects, but there is no denying that the anxiety was there. Fast forward to two weeks later, it was early on a Friday morning when suddenly, I hear my phone vibrate and I see a new email. It was from the guys at REXUS … and … YES ! WE MADE IT !

We all were very happy with the result, but also knew that this is when the hard work really started. Following that, Enda joined our team to take care of the electronic aspects of our experiment, namely the experiment control and data acquisition sub-system. Slowly but steadily, the experiment design is getting more and more refined. By the end of this week we have to submit our first version of experiment documentation, and in three weeks time, we’ll be in Germany for training and our first review.

Can’t wait ! 😀


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