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Space science

Spacecraft missions play a vital role in the exploration of the solar system and the more distant universe. This module introduces, in depth, the methods of conducting scientific measurements in the space environment and the technologies behind spacecraft and space missions. The module makes extensive use of online remote experiments and facilities to develop your practical scientific skills and to allow you to engage in collaborative team-working activities that are the hallmark of spacecraft operations. The module is good preparation for further academic research in space science, and develops skills and knowledge that are relevant to employment in the space sector.

Vocational relevance

The module is of particular relevance for students seeking employment not just in space science research, but more generally in the space sector. Particular strengths of this module are that it develops skills in the quantitative analysis of science and engineering data obtained from spacecraft, and requires students to have a good understanding of spacecraft systems. This module is particularly relevant to employment in roles that are concerned with the acquisition, handling and interpretation of data obtained by space-based instrumentation.


S818 is a compulsory module in our:

S818 is an optional module in our:

This module can also count towards M03, which is no longer available to new students.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

This module makes extensive use of real space missions to highlight the challenges of spaceflight and illustrate the diversity of topics encompassed by space science. An introductory section covering the basic concepts of spaceflight and spacecraft design is followed by four in-depth case studies. These consider science topics in lunar and planetary exploration, as well as space-based astronomy. You’ll see how science goals translate into the engineering requirements of spacecraft and their operation. Online practical work supports each case study – for example, using a robotic telescope to observe variable stars or a microscope to study hypervelocity impacts on spacecraft materials.
Throughout the module, there’s emphasis on developing skills that are relevant to research in space science and employment in the space sector. You’ll analyse and present spacecraft data using the Python programming language. You’ll develop your team-working skills through a simulated mission to explore and investigate a Martian landscape using the OpenSTEM Laboratory’s Mars yard and rover. With support from your tutor, you’ll also develop a case for a small spacecraft based on your own ideas and interests, which must meet the exacting demands of a real space mission.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Your tutor will support your learning by providing feedback on your assignments, facilitating group work, online tutorials and responding to your individual queries.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Course work includes

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

Space science (S818) starts once a year – in February.

This page describes the module that will start in February 2021.

We expect it to start for the last time in February 2024.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    We would typically expect students to have an honours degree (or equivalent qualification) in physics, astronomy, geosciences, chemistry, engineering or mathematics. Note that we do not require previous study in space science or astronomy.

    It’s essential you have the necessary background knowledge and experience. The booklet Are You Ready For S818? will help you decide if you’re ready to start the module or you need some extra preparation.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    30 Jan 2021 Oct 2021 £2520.00

    Registration closes 14/01/21 (places subject to availability)

    This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2024.

    Future availability

    Space science (S818) starts once a year – in February.

    This page describes the module that will start in February 2021.

    We expect it to start for the last time in February 2024.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a computer, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    Ways to pay for this module

    We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

    That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    Study materials are all online and provided through the module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • study guides and associated resources
    • audio and video content
    • assignment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access
    • remote access to online experiments and collaborative activities.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    Materials to buy

    Set books

    • Fortescue, P., Swinerd, G. & Stark, J. (eds) Spacecraft Systems Engineering (4th edn) Wiley £56.00 - ISBN 9780470750124

    If you have a disability

    Some online components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader (mathematical, and scientific materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way). Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future.

    Due to our extensive use of external websites and third party software, we cannot guarantee the accessibility of all components of the module.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.