During 2003 it was identified that many of our most talented and experienced students were nearing graduation without ever having had the possibility of seeing their hardware fly. In conjunction with this the slow (but steady) progress of ESEO had produced a gradual decline in the motivation and ambition of the SSETI community, including many of the experts here at ESTEC whose knowledge, expertise and voluntary help we rely upon immensely. It therefore became clear to the programme management that a new ‘express’ mission was required that could act as a motivational aid, a technological test-bed, a logistical precursor, and, most importantly, a demonstration of capability to the SSETI and Educational communities, our support network at ESA, and the space community in general. Hence, the SSETI Express project was born.
To this end the latter half of 2003 was spent creating a database of all available hardware within the SSETI programme, other educational initiatives, and ESA itself. At the 6th SSETI Workshop here at ESTEC on the 5th and 6th of December an intensive project kick-off meeting was held at which a baseline design was defined to produce a simple, realisable and interesting mission that used existing low-tech solutions to solve high-tech problems. Many major issues were identified and actions assigned appropriately throughout the student teams and the programme management, with a view to swift resolution. Just six short months later we now had a near-complete and detailed design for an innovative, interesting and educational mission, and we are confident that we will be ready to launch early in 2005.