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University of Silesia in Katowice

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On the construction of a student rover and insight into the psyche of an astronaut

01.03.2024 - 16:06 update 08.03.2024 - 12:56
Editors: OO

Each of 50 Weeks in the City of Science features a text about selected research in a given subject area carried out by scientists from the universities forming the Academic Consortium Katowice City of Science. The texts we publish give insight into the diversity of issues scientists deal with and show the research potential that is dormant in the universities of the consortium.

| Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik |

The first ten of 50 Weeks in the City of Science closes with Space Week. On this topic, scientists from the Academic Consortium Katowice City of Science conduct research in many fields: from the construction of a Mars rover, through the observation of celestial bodies, a look into the astronaut’s psyche, to the study of the impact of cosmic radiation on barley seeds.

Widok galaktyki

Photo by Jeremy Thomas | Unsplash

The special guest of Space Week will be Sławosz Uznański, PhD Eng., project astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA). The scientist has a PhD in electronics. A year ago, Sławosz Uznański announced a competition for students Direction: Space. The participants’ task was to prepare their own research project that could be used in space. The winning idea will be implemented on the International Space Station. The results will be announced on Sunday, 10 March.

Phoenix III rover

There is no space exploration without innovative machines and devices. The prototype of such a mobile robot is created entirely by students from the Silesian Phoenix team, operating as part of the AI-METH Student Research Group of the Silesian University of Technology The latest version of their Mars rover is the Phoenix III.

The distinguishing element of this rover is the main material from which its housing elements are made, i.e. carbon-epoxy composite. ‘Most of this type of student structures (from all over the world) are made mainly of various types of metal alloys. We decided to focus on the materials of the future, which are composites. They combine two features: high strength while maintaining very low weight”, explains Andrzej Jałowiecki, MSc Eng, project supervisor.

Although this version of the rover has no chance of flying to Mars (including due to the fact that the mechanical elements and electronic systems are designed for Earth’s conditions), it is possible that its elements, solutions and algorithms could be transplanted to real Mars rovers in the future.

The team has already taken part in prestigious international competitions such as the European Rover Challenge. This year, students plan to take part in three competitions: in Türkiye, Poland and Canada.

Space psychology

Participating in a space mission is an extreme situation for humans, so astronauts must have certain special traits, including: resistance to fatigue, above-average ability to focus, but also optimism and kindness towards other people. Agnieszka Skorupa, PhD from the Institute of Psychology at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Silesia specialises in psychological research in this area.

The scientist began by examining human functioning in groups in polar conditions, which was the topic of her PhD thesis. In recent years, however, she has focused on research in the field of space psychology. She, among others, serves as the coordinator of psychological research in the Martian-lunar space habitat Lunares in Piła, which deals with simulations of manned space missions.

“Astronauts operate in an extreme environment, which means that they are exposed to numerous physical and psychological stressors, and the individual’s survival is strictly dependent on technology and the effectiveness of the entire team. In my research, I focus on analysing group dynamics during simulated space missions, observing emotional changes occurring in analogue astronauts during isolation, and also I am looking for answers to the question whether individual personality and temperamental predispositions are crucial for effective adaptation to life in space”, emphasises Agnieszka Skorupa, PhD.

Her latest project ‘AstroMentalHealth’ (on mental health monitoring) was selected by the European and Polish Space Agency for planned implementation on the International Space Station during a mission with the participation of a Polish astronaut.

By a balloon into the stratosphere

What effect does short-term cosmic radiation have on the physiological, morphological and molecular parameters of four different barley varieties and their yield quality? This will be tested by members of the Plant Genetics and Functional Genomics Team and the Genome Guardians Student Research Group from the Institute Biology, Biotechnology and Environmental Protection at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Silesia.

As part of Space Week, they will conduct an experiment using a stratospheric balloon.

“We will work on germinating grains of four different barley varieties: Sebastian, Golden Promise, Planet and Morex. Most of them are modern varieties of common spring barley, but they differ in geographical origin. We will sow grains of each variety in Petri dishes, the seedlings of which will be placed on the outside of the balloon capsule so that they are exposed to cosmic radiation during the flight”, explains Hubert Matkowski, MA, PhD student.

After the balloon returns to Earth, the tissue from half of the seedlings of each variety will be frozen (for later molecular analyses), and the rest will be sown into the ground and cultivated in the greenhouse for physiological analyses at appropriate development periods.

“This accumulated knowledge will allow us to more precisely determine which of the analysed barley varieties are more tolerant to radiation conditions in space.

As a result, we will be able to identify those varieties that could be useful both on the International Space Station and in further space exploration missions. In addition, our goal is to understand the mechanisms that underlie plant reactions to stressful conditions and to identify potential changes in the mechanisms leading to these reactions”, says Hubert Matkowski.


The Planetarium – Silesian Science Park, an institution cooperating with the Academic Consortium Katowice City of Science, is also involved in Space Week events.

The Silesian Planetarium has two observatories: optical and radio one. The optical observatory, which has existed since the beginning of the facility’s operation, is equipped with a new reflecting telescope with a diameter of 70 cm (the second largest such instrument in Poland). The new equipment will allow scientific research based on observations of celestial bodies to be conducted again. “Optical research is currently planned, mainly research on the variability of stars and small bodies of the Solar System (i.e. planetoids and asteroids), as well as research on gravitational lensing and the search for planets outside the Solar System”, says Anna Skrzypecka from the Silesian Planetarium.

The facility also conducts research activities in the area of meteorological measurements (including regular measurements of the state of the atmosphere for over half a century) and seismographic measurements (monitoring of movements of the Earth’s crust, including mining tremors).

Check Space Week programme at: https://us.edu.pl/en/tydzien-kosmiczny-w-miescie-nauki-4-10-marca-2024/.

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