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Space science

Spacecraft missions play a vital role in the exploration of the solar system and the more distant universe, and are at the forefront of scientific inquiry. This module provides an in-depth introduction to the methods of conducting scientific measurements and observations in the space environment and the technologies needed for space missions. A key feature of this module is the use of remotely operated experiments to develop your skills in conducting space-based scientific investigations. 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. Consequently, 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.

Postgraduate Loans

If you study this module as part of an eligible qualification, you may be eligible for a Postgraduate Loan. For more information, see Fees and funding.


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 begins by introducing some of the basic concepts of space-flight and space instrumentation that underpin space science. It then uses a case-study approach, through which you will develop your understanding of scientific space missions of various types, including lunar and planetary exploration and space-based astronomy. These case-studies are used to develop your understanding of the science behind these missions as well as giving you experience of real-life technical challenges and solutions of operating in the space environment.

Throughout there is an emphasis on developing skills that are relevant to space-science research and employment in the space-sector. Practical and analytical skills are developed using remotely-controlled instrumentation and from the analysis of real space science data. You will be expected to develop proficiency in a computer programming language for the control of equipment or the analysis of data. Space missions are complex and draw on the skills and contributions of many individuals. Hence, team working is a vital part of research or employment in the space sector. The module emulates the experience of space scientists by requiring you to work online with other students on activities using remotely controlled experiments, including the analysis of data and the presentation of your results.

On an individual basis, you will also analyse and identify your own learning and developmental needs in the light of your academic or professional interests.

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 2019. 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 is 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
    26 Jan 2019 Oct 2019 £2380.00

    Registration closes 10/01/19 (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 2019. 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 laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    Ways to pay

    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. To find out more see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    Study materials are all online and provided through the module website.

    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:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • Mac OS 10.7 or higher

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

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    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 £53.95 - 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.