The GDST Space Technology Diploma

Coding, Collaboration and Congratulations from NASA at our Space Tech Showcase

space day gdst

On Friday May 6th, students participating in the GDST Space Technology Diploma from Sutton High School, Sheffield Girls’ and Oxford High School congregated at GDST Trust Office for the inaugural, end of year student conference. 


Coding the future of space exploration

This programme, created and led by Sutton High School’s Head of Computer Science Nicola Jane Buttigieg, is comparable with an undergraduate university module. 

Nicola designed the diploma to fill a gap. Namely, that there is no specific undergraduate degree that solely focuses on computer science disciplines relevant to Space Science. This deficit is also reflected in the current Computer Science and Physics A-Level syllabuses. 

Space agencies around the world have recognised that attracting more women into the space industry is of vital importance, with The European Space Agency setting the target of employing women in at least 40% of all STEM roles by 2025. The GDST’s Space Technology Diploma is specifically designed to upskill girls across our schools so that they are well placed to consider careers in the industry. 


The GDST Space Technology Diploma

Following a year’s attendance of academic sessions, students used their new knowledge of stratospheric data analysis, Python coding and planetary science for a final viva style presentation of their own independent space engineering projects at the GDST Trust Office. 

Students used Python-based programming to carry out their final projects which included: 

  • Motion sensor data classification. In this project, students used data to predict forces impacting devices in remote environments like space. When target environments and their fluctuating conditions can be predicted, so may their impacts on devices.  Automation programs can therefore be designed for the devices to respond to those environmental conditions. For instance, triggering responses to drops, forces and changes in weight.
  • Replicating the WEBB MIRI instrument, itself an element of the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) on the James Webb Space Telescope. Imagine zooming right into individual pixels on a small piece of a huge image. This is what our students did, using Python programming to create a reduced-concept, colour pixel-based grid image from an array matrix. Such techniques are used in space exploration to detail parts of images from space telescopes like the James Webb. 
  • Using and analysing My NASA Data. Students downloaded data specifically formatted for computer programming to produce Python-based data science models for the Google Colaboratory platform. Their models analysed data from the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, geosphere or hydrosphere. This activity replicates everyday data analysis done by space scientists.

A guest panel of space industry professionals, who have also contributed to the programme agenda, offered advice and feedback on projects to students. The panel featured:

  •         Elizabeth Joyner of Earth Science Data Systems out of NASA HQ
  •         Dr Bradley Hegyi and Angela Rizzi of My NASA Data (NASA Langley Research Center)
  •         Dr Kevin Czajkowski of NASA GLOBE Mission Earth (University of Toledo)
  •         Dr Jin Kang, Director of the US Naval Academy Small Satellite Program and co-developer at Maru Space Technology 


Stratospheric praise for GDST students from NASA


The progress and knowledge of the GDST girls impressed the panel. 

One NASA representative remarked, 


‘I have PhD students who aren’t coding to the level that this group are.’


Nicola Jane Buttigieg’s work was also lauded; she received a NASA Certificate of Appreciation ‘for excellence in 21st Century teaching and learning in the fields of Earth Observation, Data & Computer Sciences’

Participating students Sophie and Kiyara from Sutton, Rina and Zahra from Sheffield, and Lottie, Bella, Tia and Hannah from Oxford, received certificates in a final presentation at the end of the conference.

 For 2022/23 Nicola is developing further modules and assignments with NASA DEVELOP at NASA Langley Research Center and the University of Warwick Satellite Programme (WUSAT). On Friday suggestions were explored for onward collaborative efforts with the panel members, for instance toward finding algorithmic solutions to digital inaccuracies around data collection.


Inspiring more GDST coders next year

We’re delighted to be bringing together girls across the UK to learn about space technology without limits in 2022. 

This Trust wide initiative will lift off for its second pilot year featuring more schools, modules and students; helping Python coders within the GDST family to explore computer science and the space industry.