Isle of Man students all set for a summer Space School with a difference

Sophie Bell, Benjamin Li (centre) and Joseph Dunne – ManSat Group’s Space School scholarship winners 2020

Three Isle of Man students who should have been packing their bags to travel to the summer Space School in Houston will instead take part in a global virtual challenge to ‘explore’ an asteroid.

The annual ManSat Group scholarships to attend NASA’s United Space School (USS) – at the NASA Johnson Space Centre and University of Houston – were won by Sophie Bell from Queen Elizabeth II High School in Peel and Benjamin Li and Joseph Dunne from Ramsey Grammar School.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to plans to stage this year’s gathering, which each year brings together students from more than 20 countries around the world as they plan a simulated crewed mission to Mars.

Instead, Sophie, Benjamin and Joseph will be Island-bound as they participate in the Global Space School (GSS), a two-week project conducted virtually via video calls.

The mission is for each team to plan a trip to an asteroid, investigating how humanity can commercialize space to reduce Earth pollution and further scientific discoveries, while expanding resources and facilitating the necessary infusion of capital. Each team will build a proposal and win a bid for a service in the following categories: Mining, Manufacturing and Transportation.

As with the USS, students will be exposed to the latest technology and industry standards, interacting with space industry professionals including astronauts, NASA engineers and scientists.

Dr Jennifer Stone, ManSat’s Chief Technical Officer, said: “Obviously, it is disappointing for the students not to be able to go to Houston. The USS organisers have arranged what should be an exciting alternative and we are sure Sophie, Benjamin and Joseph will excel in these unusual circumstances.  Provided the USS is held as normal in 2021, we intend for Sophie, Benjamin and Joseph to go to Houston next July.

“ManSat would, therefore, not run its space school scholarship competition in the 2020/2021 academic year. However, for 2021/2022, our competition would be open to both Year 12 and Year 13 students – for that year only – so that all Isle of Man sixth-form students will have had the opportunity to enter our competition during their school career.”

Sophie is studying maths, biology, and physics at A-level, alongside an AS level in further maths, and is aiming to study biology at university after sixth form.

She said: “For the asteroid mission, I am looking forward to the commercial/competitive aspect of the project, as I think that it is a new, interesting perspective on the development of space travel. I would like to thank ManSat for providing the competition and scholarships, and for the opportunity to attend the USS in person next year.”

Benjamin is studying maths, chemistry, physics, and further maths at A-level and is planning to study engineering at university, with a view to a career in energy or aerospace.

He said: “I am most interested in the areas of the project which involve the application of physics, e.g. orbital mechanics and launch equations. Naturally, it was disappointing knowing that I wouldn’t get to have the full experience and meet all the people from around the world. However, I am glad that there is still a project, and to have the opportunity to go next year. The competition is a great opportunity for Manx students, and I am hugely grateful to ManSat for giving me the chance to work with amazing people from all around the world and gain so much valuable experience relevant to my field of interest.”

Joseph is studying maths, physics, and computer science at A-level and further maths to AS level and wants to pursue a career as an AI researcher. He is following in the footsteps of his brother, Harry, who visited NASA for the United Space School 2019 – the first time siblings have won ManSat scholarships.

He said: “Prior to the space school starting we got set assignments for the different aspects of the mission. This included mission control, mission objectives, transit, landing and habitation. Personally, I enjoy the aspects of the mission which are more related to physics and maths and so I am looking forward to contributing to the transit and landing of the mission.

“Obviously, it was disappointing to hear we would not be going to Houston this year, but it was the right decision to be made. Still, the virtual mission will be a valuable experience. It is extremely generous of ManSat to offer us sponsorship in 2021 – the competition has already inspired many Manx students to pursue careers in science and I can only see it inspiring more in the years to come.”

Manx satellite firm the ManSat Group has awarded the USS scholarships each year since 2000, in cooperation with the Department of Education, Sport and Culture (DESC).

The competition to win the scholarships involved writing three space-related essays, which are anonymised before reaching the ManSat judging panel, and the three students thanked their schools and teachers for their support.

Dr Stone said: ‘This year’s scholars would have brought the total number of Isle of Man students to visit the USS to 41 since we started running the competition in 2000, the year ManSat started trading. We were excited to see what adventures Sophie, Benjamin and Joseph would have in Houston, but all being well, they will be able to enjoy the full experience next year.

‘The team at ManSat would like to thank all students who took the time to enter the competition. The standard of essays was, as usual, most impressive. Our thanks as always to the DESC, the Island’s secondary schools and King William’s College for their support in running the scholarships.”

Dr Alex Allinson, Minister for Education, Sport and Culture, said: ‘The decision not to hold the USS this year was understandable, but this new virtual challenge sounds fantastic and I’m sure Sophie, Benjamin and Joseph will gain much from it. The decision by ManSat to offer them all places on next year’s trip to Houston is most kind, and on behalf of the Department I would like to thank everyone involved with ManSat for the opportunities they continue to provide for our young people.’

Please visit for more information about the Space School and for details of the company’s scholarships, and for details on ManSat itself.