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Mechanical Engineering student, Mikhail Vaganov, takes part in Summer School Alpach 2022

10 October 2022

Picture of students taking part in Summer School Alpach 2022
Students taking part in Summer School Alpach 2022. Mikhail Vaganov is pictured holding the Irish flag

Mikhail Vaganov, a current Senior Sophister Mechanical and Manufacturing student, was one of 60 students and graduates in engineering and science from ESA’s Member and Associate States to be selected to take part in the prestigious Summer School Alpach in July 2022.

Below Mikhail takes us through his experience.

January 2022, an article published on the ESA Academy webpage caught my attention. “60 students and young graduates in engineering and science from ESA’s Member and Associate States will be selected to participate in the Summer School Alpbach.” 

April 2022, I receive an email: “We are pleased to inform you that your application is accepted and that we can offer you a place in the Summer School Alpbach 2022”. A few months later I will be receiving a welcoming message from Josef Aschbacher (ESA Director General & former Summer School Alpbach participant), which was the beginning of the most fascinating and life-changing experiences. 

The Summer School Alpbach has been held annually since 1975. According to the Director of the summer school, Michaela Gitsch, "Almost 4000 participants among them Nobel prize winners and other distinguished scientists, leading space experts and astronauts attended the Summer School as students, tutors or lecturers.”

During a 10-day period all participants attend lectures on relevant aspects of space science/engineering and work intensively within four groups to define/design a space mission. This year the science topic was “Comparative plasma physics in the universe”.

From now on, let me take you on a journey of how my team developed a space mission CASPER.
My days began with attending a series of lectures in the most beautifully positioned school in the Austrian Alps. Leading experts in the topics of plasma physics and aerospace engineering, delivered a total of 19 lectures in the first few days of the school. Some lectures were tailored towards strengthening our knowledge, including “Earths magnetosphere as plasma lab” and “Space system engineering”. Additionally, we have had a pleasure of listening to lectures such as “The big picture” by Gunther Hasinger (ESA Director of Science) and “The James Webb Space Telescope: from first light to new planets” by Mark McCaughrean (ESA’s Science Advisor for science & exploration), a truly enthralling and inspiring stories of human achievements in science.

Mission preparation began with my assignment to team BLUE, where I have found myself working with PhD, Master, and Bachelor students from different European universities and backgrounds. A few days of intense research was enough to finalize our teams mission statement: “To investigate Transient Luminous Events (TGFs) and Terrestrial Gamma-Ray Flashes (TGFs)”. As a mechanical engineering student, I have found myself working on the mission segment (launch, transfer, orbit).

After working endlessly for 7 days and nights, my team have developed a space mission CASPER, to a point where a space agency could take the concept over and start the mission assessment phase. Our mission CASPER provided a preliminary end-to-end mission concept including spacecraft, scientific instruments as well as science operations. Finally, my team wrote a 10-page report as well as prepared and delivered a 1-hour oral presentation to an expert review panel. After the jury evaluation, mission CASPER won the “Best Competitiveness” award during the closing ceremony.

If you are interested in the first ever mission designed to investigate Transient Luminous Events (TGFs) and Terrestrial Gamma-Ray Flashes (TGFs), please find below the report and presentation of mission CASPER.

May I end this story with answering my own question, “what have taken in from this Alpbach experience?”. - I have learned how to work within a multi-disciplinary team to achieve one set goal. I have gained a large amount of space science and engineering knowledge. Finally, I understood that it is important to keep searching for the unknown. Whether this unknown, is your life goal, or the cause of Transient Luminous Events.


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