The AstEx Team

The AstEx team consists of two postgraduate students based at The Open University's Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute (PSSRI) in the UK and The Cote d'Azur Observatory in Nice, France.

The students jointly designed, built and flew the experiment while also continuing their full time research activities. The experience has provided invaluable training for their PhDs and future careers.

The team had some additional help from the Losert Lab in Maryland, US who are experts in Granular Dynamics and in particular with tracking the particle motion during the different experiments. Also, a lot of help was provided by Thomas Louis de Lophem, a mechanical engineer currently studying for a second degree in Physics at The Open University.

The AstEx Team Members


Ben is the AstEx team leader and a postgraduate student affiliated with The Open University's Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute (PSSRI) in the UK. His PhD thesis focuses on characterisation of Near-Earth asteroids for a sample return mission.

He graduated with a first class degree in MPhys Physics with Space Science and Technology coming top of his year at the University of Leicester in summer 2007. During his 4th year undergraduate studies he developed an interest in planetary science by undertaking research projects on Near-Earth asteroids and the planet Mars. It was during a lecture on asteroids that he first met his future PhD supervisor and the future endorsing professor of AstEx, Simon Green.

Ben started his PhD at The Open University in autumn 2007, and through his PhD studies was selected to participate in NASA Ames’ S4P program on the spacecraft exploration of Near-Earth asteroids in summer 2008. It was during this program that the AstEx project was first envisioned. He also applied to be an ESA astronaut in summer 2008 but unfortunately did not get selected (presumably he was too good)!



Naomi is a postgraduate student affiliated with The Open University's Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute (PSSRI) in the UK, The Côte d'Azur Observatory in Nice, France and Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France.

She graduated with a first class MPhys Astrophysics degree from The University of Edinburgh in 2007 and then went to work as a Young Graduate Trainee with the Advanced Concepts Team at ESA. It was during this year that Naomi's interests moved towards Planetary Sciences and, in particular, asteroids.

While at ESA she was involved in the Marco Polo Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) study and consequently met Simon Green and Patrick Michel who are key members of the Marco Polo Science Team. In summer 2008 she was an intern at NASA Ames as part of the Small Spacecraft Summer Study Project (S4P): Near Earth Objects. It was during this program that Naomi met Ben and they decided to propose a parabolic flight experiment together.

After working for a short period at the end of 2008 as a spacecraft systems engineer on an internal ESA NanoSat study Naomi moved back to the world of science. Naomi began her PhD at the start of 2009 and her thesis will focus on modelling the behaviour of granular material on the surfaces of planetary bodies. The parabolic flight experiment will hopefully provide experimental validation of the models she develops.





Simon is a Senior Lecturer in the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute (PSSRI) at The Open University, UK. His research focuses on physical studies of planetary surfaces and small solar system bodies (asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust and space debris) through analysis of spacecraft data, ground and space-based observations and computer modelling. He is the endorsing professor of the AstEx project.





Patrick is the head of the Planetology Group of the Cassiopée Laboratory of the Côte d'Azur Observatory. His research is devoted to the understanding of the collisional processes between small bodies and to their dynamical evolution in our Solar Sytem as well as in any planetary system. He is an assistant professor for the AstEx project.



Tomi is a mechanical engineer who left ESA to come and work with the AstEx team! His engineering skills have been invaluable to the project and he has produced many design drawings for the workshop and for the design documents. He has also performed detailed finite element analysis of the equipment to ensure it meets the Novespace requirements.

And there are a few other very important people involved in the AstEx project.....



Kevin is an engineer working in the workshop at the Open University and has been a HUGE help to the AstEx team over the last few months. Not only did he help to design the experiment but he also built it and put up with all the constant design changes requested by Novespace and ESA. He even gave up holidays for us! Without his help and hard work this project would not have been possible!


Picture coming



Damian also works in the workshop at the Open University. He has worked hard along with Kevin throughout the design and construction of the AstEx experiment.




Chris is the manager of the workshop at the Open University. He has been incredibly patient with us and still manages to smile despite the fact our experiment has taken over his workshop and his staff for much longer than any of us anticipated (sorry again!). Chris has also helped the AstEx team to chose and install the motor and inverter system.
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