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Jelly-fuelled spacecraft among winning designs in Sutherland school rocket challenge

By Alan Hendry

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Tongue pupils (from left) Lucy Mackay, Struan Mackay Shanks and Ruaridh Faccenda.
Tongue pupils (from left) Lucy Mackay, Struan Mackay Shanks and Ruaridh Faccenda.

A jelly-fuelled rocket was among the prize-winning ideas put forward by primary pupils in a design competition linked to the north Sutherland spaceport.

The Space Rocket Challenge gave children from Tongue Primary School the chance to build their own rockets during lockdown, and their imaginative entries left space engineers suitably impressed.

The competition was organised by Melness Crofters’ Estate, which is seeking to build the world’s first carbon-neutral spaceport on a portion of the estate’s 10,700 acres of land, and Orbex, the UK-based orbital launch services company.

Pupils were given the option of decorating specially laser-cut wooden templates provided by Orbex or using their own materials to design and build their rockets.

In the P1-3 category, seven-year-old Lucy Mackay (P2) took the top spot with her jelly-fuelled "family blaster" rocket that was built to fly to the moon, via Canada, to pick up members of her family who had emigrated there.

The P4-7 section was won by nine-year-old Connie Gordon (P5), who put sustainable measures at the heart of her detailed design with solar panels to power the rocket, and special heat-resistant covers.

Dorothy Pritchard, chairwoman of Melness Crofters' Estate, said: “We were so delighted to see the rocket submissions from the local primary school. This is just one small example of how the community is engaging with the spaceport as plans for the Sutherland Space Hub progress.

"Creating these types of opportunities in the community is what we want to see as a result of the spaceport, and we hope to strengthen our links with the local primary and secondary school.

"We’re glad that the children are having fun and hope that projects like these inspire them to consider a career in the space industry or STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects in the future.”

Orbex CEO Chris Larmour said: “Choosing a winner for the Space Rocket Challenge was difficult as we had so many detailed and imaginative submissions. Well done to everyone at Tongue Primary School who took part.

"From jelly-fuelled rockets to those thinking green by incorporating solar panels as a source of power, I think we have some budding rocket designers in our midst. It’s inspiring to see so many young people learning about space and we hope to continue to develop links with local schools to nurture their interest further.”

Dee Roberts, principal teacher at Tongue primary, said: "All of the children involved really enjoyed learning about space through the rocket-building competition. They worked very hard on their designs and created some very imaginative and well engineered rockets.

"It was a great way to consolidate our learning about space and rocket-building within STEM subjects and the children really benefited from receiving feedback from real-life space engineers.”

Space Hub Sutherland, was granted planning permission in August 2020, with construction expected to begin in mid-2021.

Competition results – P1-3: 1 Lucy Mackay, P2; 2 Ruaridh Faccenda, P3; 3 Struan Mackay Shanks, P2.

P4-7: 1 Connie Gordon, P5; 2 Ruairidh Campbell, P5; 3 Kynan Kula, P6.

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