Dr. Michael Martin Smith (Space Age Associates, UK) is the ideator of a small, low cost, Space Telescope, named Humble, which can be used by Astronomy Students. Recently the project entered in the phase of realization of the prototype. BBC and UK newspapers are speaking about it. I asked Michael to give us, leaving outside UK, the basic information on his project. Technologies of the Frontier will keep you informed on the development of Humble. I hope we can help, in some way, the realization of this project and the following use of the telescope.
Michael, what is the present state of the art of the Humble project?
At present, Space Innovations Ltd - a small high tech business , working in Newbury, Berkshire is working on a prototype minisatellite, 150 kg, which would be the basis for Humble. Leicester University is interested in acting as ground control station and control centre for Humble, as part of its National Space Science Centre (funded by the Millennium Commission), provided that it costs them no extra money! A management Consultant, Mr Chris Elliott, is doing a paper on Private Finance Initiatives, a new way of funding space projects, for the British National Space Centre, using Humble as a text book example. He believes that the BNSC, Dept of Education, and Millennial Charities could between them raise the 3 million pounds per year for 3 years necessary to build, launch, and operate Humble; hopefully, progress will be made on this front during the current year. These three organizations would act as anchor tenants, raising the money commercially, and then making a profit from sale of data gathered by Humble. It could for instance, be paid for as an educational good.
What is the foreseen time scheduling of the project?
The prototype will be built during this year, and may become a flight prototype with minimal modifications, depending on SIL's engineers. If so, we could see launch, possibly for one million dollars, on an Ariane 5, in the year 2000.
Who is actually involved in the project of Humble? And which could be the users? Could the satellite be used also outside UK?
Mr Rodney Buckland, the Project Manager, is lecturer in space risk assessment, and satellite technologies, at Kent and the Open Universities, UK. He is also a business consultant in space matters, and contacted me very shortly after I had proposed it to a UK national daily newspaper- the Daily Telegraph, and won a competition prize for it as a Millennium suggestion for science. Rodney is also Vice Chairman of the committee of the European Association for Astronomy Education(EAAE) - a situation which could lead to the Europeanization of Humble; it could thus be used in school curricula throughout Europe Prof Alan Wells, of Astronomy and Astrophysics, at Leicester University, with an interest in UV astronomy, and also the Leicester branch of SEDS-UK students, who can see a use for Humble as a training tool in space/satellite technology as well as astronomy Space Innovatioons Ltd, at Newbury, Berkshire, notably Mr James Barrington-Brown, Marketing Director, and Mr Chris Elliott, working for ther BNSC as financial consultant, as desribed above. My role is as original proponent, and publicist. Depending on demand, the usage of Humble could become international, even global, thanks to the Internet/world wide web. After 3 years of operation, if successful we could see Humble 2, or even multiple Humbles, if activity warranted it.
What is the UK Government behaviour regard the project?
Last May(1997) the Government's Department of Trade awarded SIL 450,000 pounds to develop the prototype; with the usual bureaucratic procedures, work is only now starting.
The Humble project seems to be now quite popular. Does the media help you?
I have given talks to numerous schools, astronomy grouops and conventions, and appeared on several radio and TV broadcasts usually arousing great excitement and interest. In Yorkshire at least, the project is now quite widely known, and eagerly awaited in many schools. Thanks to BBC World Service, last summer I gave an inteview which reached 200 millions worldwide. I believe, if and when it becomes reality, the interest will be great among schools, amateur astronomers, and the general public, via the media, who will be able to access good real time and archived images for multiple uses -- education, entertainment, documentaries etc.