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Space Science and Exploration

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Space Science and Exploration

The challenge of space exploration drives innovation in science and technology and has spawned a thriving UK space industry. The Open University (OU) is a world leader in space science working closely with the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and other national space agencies, universities, research centres and industry around the world to develop instrumentation and concepts for breakthrough space science missions.

The cutting-edge technology this develops to unlock the secrets of the universe is also applied to practical challenges here on Earth from cancer testing to food security. This research also informs our world-leading teaching in the Physical Sciences – over 30,000 people have studied the OU Space MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course). OU space research engages with the public and inspires the next generation of STEM graduates.

Key themes

Electronic imaging

CCD (Charged Coupling Devices) and CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensors have enabled the digital image revolution, helping us to look deeper into space than ever before. 

Analytical instrumentation

Mass spectrometry equipment for elemental and isotopic analysis, designed and built at the OU, has played a leading role in iconic space missions such as the Rosetta mission and its Philae comet landing.

Space data addressing global challenges

Our scientists are working on a number of initiatives utilising satellite data to improve food security in South America, monitoring the presence and accumulation of plastics in the world’s oceans, developing an early-warning system to better manage chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear accidents and monitoring deforestation.

Habitats for space exploration

Combining the fields of the Built Environment, Manufacturing, Materials, Space Engineering, and Planetary Sciences, our researchers are investigating the use of lunar soil (or regolith) as a building material for 3D-printed lunar habitats and developing the techniques and instrumentation to enable these extra-terrestrial construction processes.