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Physics and space

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In this module, you’ll examine fundamental physics and space sciences concepts. Its nine topics and practical activities will help prepare you to study physics, astronomy or planetary science. You’ll learn through solving physical science problems while acquiring computer programming knowledge and practising your existing maths skills.

What you will study

To begin, you’ll develop your understanding of different scales – particularly those that are much larger or smaller than will be familiar to you. Through the nine topics, you’ll then meet concepts and principles in classical and quantum physics and the space sciences. Alongside each topic, you’ll practise your maths skills, applying them to problems in physical sciences. You’ll also be introduced to computer coding, using the Python programming language.

Topic 1 – Forces around you
You’ll explore the types of forces encountered in everyday life, including elastic and frictional forces, as well as gravitational and electromagnetic forces.

Topic 2 – An introduction to energy
You’ll meet the concept of energy and the idea of energy conservation. You’ll learn about some of the different forms that energy can take, including kinetic energy and potential energy, as well as the notions of work and heat.

Topic 3 – Material worlds
You’ll examine how the microscopic structure of materials – at the level of atoms, ions, and electrons – explains some of the ways in which materials behave, through the concept of chemical bonding.

Topic 4 – The quantum realm
This topic will introduce you to the world of quantum phenomena, including the uncertainty principle, wave-particle duality and quantum numbers in atoms – leading to an understanding of the periodic table.

Topic 5 – Energy in society
You’ll explore different fuel sources and look at how energy is used to heat our homes and in transport.

Topic 6 – Nuclei and particles
You’ll learn about the subatomic components of the world around us, including radioactivity and the fundamental particles of matter, as well as the processes that govern their interactions.

Topic 7 – Components of the Universe
You’ll explore the galaxies, stars and planets that make up the Universe and understand how astronomers are able to study objects that are very distant from Earth, including exoplanets and dark matter.

Topic 8 – Exploring the Solar System
You’ll discover for yourself how the various planets, moons, asteroids and comets of our Solar System are explored using landers and remote-sensing spacecraft.

Topic 9 – How the Universe works
You’ll learn about the expansion and cooling of the Universe, how it evolved from the Big Bang to the present day, and its likely future.

Practical work
Some topics include home-based experiments, which you’ll carry out using everyday items. You’ll also conduct two online practical activities: based on data from a weather station and using a radioactive particle detector called a cloud chamber. The online activities provide you with opportunities for collaborative teamwork with your fellow students.

Computer programming
You’ll also be introduced to computer coding, using the Python programming language. Throughout your learning, in a series of dedicated study weeks, you’ll develop your understanding of coding and apply your newly developed skills writing simple programs to solve physical science problems.

You will learn

You’ll learn key physics, astronomy and planetary science concepts and develop your own scientific thinking. You’ll learn fundamentals of computer programming relevant for applications in physical sciences and practice applying your mathematical skills to problems in physical sciences. You’ll also develop your skills for learning online, for working collaboratively, and for reflecting on your own development.

Entry requirements

You’ll need:

  • some understanding of basic ideas in physical science, for example: atoms; waves and electromagnetic radiation; planets and stars
  • to be familiar with basic mathematics, algebra and trigonometry
  • to be able to understand written English of the standard of a broadsheet newspaper; and write clearly and concisely, structuring short pieces so they flow coherently
  • to be able to log on to the Internet, find websites and communicate by email; and create, save and retrieve documents using basic word processing skills. No previous experience of computer programming is assumed.

You’d normally prepare yourself by completing introductory OU level 1 study as part of one of our physical-science qualifications, having passed Questions in science (S111) and passed or be studying Essential mathematics 1 (MST124) – as you’ll build on your existing study skills, maths, practical and investigative skills.

Check you're ready with our self-assessed quiz.

If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

Preparatory work

If it’s been a while since you studied science or maths, or you’re new to using a computer to access online resources, you may need to spend slightly longer on the study materials. An adviser will be able to discuss with you how much extra time you’re likely to need and whether you should consider completing an Access module or some preparatory study before beginning this module.

What's included

Physics and space is wholly online – we will provide the study materials, study guide, activities, assignments, forums, online tutorial rooms and other resources via a dedicated website. It contains significant amounts of multimedia materials including audio tracks, videos and animations, as well as interactive activities and experiments. Where possible, the materials are also available in other formats – including PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word – to enable you to study on the move.

You will need

You’ll need a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of diagrams or graphs you may need to draw for inclusion in your assessments.

You’ll need a simple scientific calculator of the type sold as suitable for GCSE/A-level use. The calculator on your mobile phone, tablet or computer won’t be suitable as your only calculator.

You’ll find it useful to have a notebook and pen for note taking and working out your answers to self-assessment questions and activities.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

You’ll submit four TMAs (tutor marked assignments) contributing 39% to your overall score (7%, 6%, 13% and 13%, respectively). We’ll assess you on the activities you complete as part of the topics, as well as the practical and computer-programming tasks.

You’ll sit an examination at the end of the module, which contributes 61% to your overall score. We’ll base the examination around materials such as articles, data, figures and graphs. These materials will be available in advance to help you prepare. As well as assessing your knowledge and skills, this exam will give you practice for exams you’ll sit at Stages 2 and 3 of your qualification which affect its classification.

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

Laboratory schools

The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences offers optional laboratory schools in Milton Keynes at an additional cost. Laboratory schools are not part of this module but may be of interest if you wish to gain relevant hands-on laboratory experience.

Further information and instructions for booking are on the SS011 website.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SM123 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Physics and space (SM123) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)