How would the Royal Air Force respond if its teams received a distress signal from an unknown craft on Mars?
The moment that earth satellite station Goonhilly in Cornwall calls to flag up an urgent signal from the red planet is part of a major role-play project between the RAF and Rolls-Royce that demonstrates their combined aviation and engineering expertise.
Flight Lieutenant Lou Page of Air Capability at RAF High Wycombe air command, told Forces Radio BFBS presenter Amy Casey about the mission, operationally named StaRRship.
Flt Lt Page, who described how imagination is being combined with genuine aviation and aerospace planning, said: “We’ve partnered with Rolls-Royce to look at this.
“We’ve got to figure out who’s called us, who they are, how they’ve got there, what their ship is and how do we get there ourselves.”
It might sound like a far-fetched scenario, but by imagining where they might find themselves in one hundred years’ time – an apt timeframe to highlight the RAF’s centenary year - the two giants of aviation and aerospace can also showcase the vast array of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles that would be needed to make such a mission possible.
The StaRRship project, inspired by the Royal Air Force and powered by Rolls-Royce, is also an imaginative way to show young people the incredible range of opportunities that open up to them by getting involved in STEM subjects.
A core audience, aged between but not limited to 15 and 25 years old, has been encouraged to sign up to contribute to the simulated mission which has been divided into six stages unfolding over six months to August 2018.
Each one of those signing up gets to contribute ideas, designs and plans to aid the imaginary mission based on STEM education.
The six mission stages demonstrate just how many roles would be needed in RAF strategic planning – particularly with the magnitude of a mission to Mars.
Roles include everything from mission planning and planning air and space operations from a command centre to intelligence and threat assessments, to looking after the health of personnel or dealing with casualties, to design engineering.
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RAF missions need other vital components in the mix, however, and that includes everything from support engineering to maintain vehicles, workshops and group support equipment right across to a restaurant – where would any mission into airspace or aerospace be without catering?
So how would the RAF execute a mission to Mars?
Flt Lt Page said: “We think the answer is going to be Starship Hope. Rolls-Royce have had a look at all the different options and all the different ways on how we can actually construct a ship to Mars, and that’s part of the game.
"This is part of the exploration for people to discover that and actually input into these ideas.
“It’s young people learning about science, technology, engineering and maths.
“Engineering is one part of it. There are so many jobs out there that link into these subjects and it is showing young people all the different opportunities out there.
“I’m not an engineer. I am barely a scientist. My degree is in equine science, that’s how crazy my world is.
“I’ve been given this opportunity with the Royal Air Force with my role as an aerospace battle manager to learn about all these different concepts, so it just shows you the breadth of application for STEM is huge.
“This is really exciting and what a year to do it. That is part of why we’ve done it, to show how far we’ve come in a hundred years.
“We really have come a long way. To do it when we are bringing up our space capability for real and partner it with this project is wonderful.”
To learn more about the StaRRship project, visit www.starrship.space which also has details of how young people can get involved.