Student’s space project captures attention of Ministry of Defence

SPACE surveillance technology developed by a Sixth Form student, with the British military in mind, has attracted the attention of the Ministry of Defence.

Oliver Barber has created a low-Earth orbit (LEO) surveillance system that gathers intelligence to identify possible dangers before they become critical, as part of his A Level work towards an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ).

His findings are now being examined by the MOD, and the 17-year-old from Ponteland, who wants to study aerospace engineering at university, has been invited to meet with Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey, a senior Royal Air Force officer who serves as the first commander of UK Space Command, to discuss the system’s capabilities.

“I've developed a system that uses hyperspectral imaging - a technique that can be used to find objects and identify materials – and can be used for preventative intelligence gathering, in particular by the British military,” explained Oliver.

“I’ve invested well over 120 hours on the project, created 3D models and HD renders to sit alongside my academic report, and I’m excited to meet Air Vice-Marshal Godfrey in person later this month to discuss its potential.”

Oliver, who is studying for A Levels in Maths, Physics and History, opted to take an EPQ - a qualification worth the equivalent of half an A Level - to explore ways to optimise LEO surveillance systems.

As part of his work, Oliver connected with industry leaders at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, hyperspectral imaging firm HySpex, and the UK’s Ministry of Defence Space Directorate.

This year the UK Government launched its first ever strategy that brings together the UK’s civil and defence space activities into one integrated approach. 

The National Space Strategy, published in September, laid out plans to invest £1.4bn in new technologies in space domain awareness, intelligence and surveillance over the next 10 years.

Oliver will travel to UK Space Command headquarters at RAF High Wycombe to meet with Air Vice-Marshal Godfrey on January 22.

Students at Dame Allan’s Schools can choose to take an EPQ as their ‘super-curriculum’ option, alongside their minimum three A Levels, to broaden their studies. 

The qualification requires them to dedicate hours of research and analysis into any chosen field of interest, before writing an academic report and finally presenting the findings, and any developed ‘artefact’, to an audience.

Principal Will Scott said: “Oliver has invested an incredible amount of time into his EPQ studies and demonstrated just how far students can go with these independent research projects.

“He is passionate about the subject and hopes to carve a career for himself in the industry one day, so to be making these steps at just 17-years-old, supported by teaching staff here, is really excellent.”

Dame Allan’s, which dates back to 1705, is mid-way through an £8m development project that will further improve its physics facilities. The build will transform the school’s arts department, and create spacious new classrooms and science labs.