Space Technology at NTNU: From plant research to building rockets at Andøya

Studenter fra NTNU med raketten sin før oppskytning


Over the last three decades, Space Technology at NTNU has covered topics from plant research for the international space station, to building and launching rockets at Andøya Space. Every year a group of students get to travel to Andøya to launch a student rocket.

On June 11th 2023, 18 students travelled from Trondheim to Andøya to work on a rocket project for a week, and ensure the launch of their rocket.

The story behind Space Technology at NTNU

Nearly 30 years ago, in 1995, Professor Tor-Henning Iversen established what is now known as the Plant Biocentre at NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in Dragvoll. Iversen and his team conducted research on plants and how they could thrive in artificial atmospheres, such as those found on the International Space Station.

Around the turn of the millennium, Professor Iversen introduced the subject of Space Technology as part of the centre. However, after a few years, it was transferred to the Department of Physics. The subject was subsequently transferred to the Department of Electronics and Telecommunications (as it was known at the time), and Professor Vendela Maria Paxal took over.

A longstanding tradition of fieldwork on Andøya

When Paxal took over in 2009, the course already included a well-established field trip to Andøya. Since then, Paxal has once a year traveled to Andøya with a group of students who spend a week building the payload for a four-meter-long rocket. At the end of the week, they all have different roles in the countdown and ensure the successful launch of the rocket.

– This opportunity I’ve had is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, said Knut Olav Kragh enthusiastically, who were one of the students in this year’s field trip.

Space Technology II students and their rocket “Toothless”. Photo: Andøya Space Education

Over the years, Space Technology has grown in popularity, now consisting of two courses: Space Technology I (fall) and Space Technology II (spring).

When Paxal took over, there were around 30–40 enrolled students, but today the number is close to 200 and continues to rise. The courses cover various fields, ranging from physics, with subjects like orbital mechanics, space environment, auroras, atmospheric physics, to applications, with subjects like earth observation, navigation, communication, and astronomical observation. They also cover life in space, like effects on living organisms such as plants and humans, and technology, where the subjects cover satellite platforms, rocket technology, satellite launches, and small sats / new space.

Importance of first-hand industry exposure

The subject maintains strong ties with the industry, inviting guest lecturers from diverse fields. Paxal herself is also connected to the industry, working for WideNorth on the development of satellite communication equipment.

– The feedback from both Norwegian and international students shows their great appreciation for guest lecturers, obtaining information directly from experts, and gaining firsthand knowledge of industry and research within this exciting and growing field, says Paxal.

The highlight of Space Technology II is the opportunity to travel to Andøya Space, limited to 24 students. To enroll in this course, students must have successfully completed Space Technology I. In addition to the field trip to Andøya, students are also required to write an essay on a topic related to space technology.

– I believe Space Technology II is an incredibly enriching course that provides us with practical experience and showcases the possibilities within the field of space technology, says Anja Våge Burtonwood, a student in the program.

– The entire Space Technology II course raises awareness of the opportunities available in both Norwegian and European space exploration, explains Ulrik Falk-Petersen, one of the students. – I believe this field trip allows us to turn concepts into reality through a scientific rocket project, concludes Falk-Petersen.

Anja Våge Burtonwood signing the rocket before launch. Photo: Andøya Space Education

Jump into more opportunities for students