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The first European satellite to be designed and built by students has launched successfully from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia's northern spaceport.

After blasting off atop a Kosmos 3M launcher, the satellite was in contact with ground control by 10:29, central European time. Also on board the Kosmos rocket were satellites from China, Iran, and the UK-funded Topsat, an Earth observation microsatellite.

SSETI Express blasts off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome

The last flight to take off from Plesetsk was the ill-fated CryoSat mission, which was lost before reaching orbit, thanks to a malfunction in the second stage of its engines. But all was well with the student project.

The SSETI Express (SSETI stands for Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative, and is, sadly, nothing to do with the search for little green men) was primarily designed as a technology tester for a forthcoming larger mission, the European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO).

It carried with it three so-called pico satellites. These, weighing in at around a kilogram each, deployed successfully within two hours of the launch. The satellite will also return images of earth, and serve as a radio transponder.

ESA's education department launched the SSETI project in 2000. The aim was to get European students involved in real space missions. Students from 23 different universities took part in designing and developing the satellite, with much of the collaborative work being done online.

But there is an important question that still needs answering. Bearing in mind that this was a student project, and a successful one at that, we are surprised that we have not yet heard exactly how a stolen traffic-cone improves the aerodynamics of a rocket launcher... ®

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