The Open University

Walton Hall, Kents Hill,
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
01908 655799 

For over 30 years the Open University has been at the forefront of cutting edge space science and space instrument development helping to unlock the secrets and evolution of life in the solar system and wider Universe. We work closely with partners from space agencies, companies and other universities to enable space science and exploration missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

We have contributed to space missions including the surface science package on the Huygens lander to Saturn’s moon Titan, the Ptolemy chemical laboratory on the Rosetta-Philae lander to comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the NOMAD spectrometer instrument on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. We also developed some of our spaceflight instrumentation for medical and environmental applications.

Our research covers a wide range of subjects, from the behaviour of atoms at temperatures close to absolute zero to the merger of galaxies many light years away. We use microscopes to study the building blocks of stars and planets, and telescopes to study stars and planets themselves. We have an unparalleled suite of analytical instrumentation in our modern laboratories complemented by multi-national facilities such as the diamond synchrotron and the European southern observatory’s telescopes.

Capability highlight

  1. Build (Satellites): Electronics & robotics and Materials & energy

Imaging detectors: Specialising in the design, development and operation of charged-coupled device (CCD) and CMOS imaging detectors for high performance applications. The Centre for Electronic Imaging also works on near infra-red, visible, ultra-violet and X-ray imaging and spectroscopy instrumentation.

Our research on imaging detectors covers the entire instrument lifetime from design to de-commissioning, TRL1-9, and includes design, modelling and simulation, lab-based characterisation, optimisation and radiation damage effects, calibration, device operations, pipeline processing software and data analysis.

Chemical analysis: Specialising in the development and deployment of instrumentation into non-space applications. Over the years this has resulted in many successful projects across numerous applications such as air quality monitoring, flavours and fragrance, healthcare, motorsport and satellite propulsion.



  1. Collect: Earth observation

Earth Observation and remote sensing: Specialising in the processing of space and air-borne imaging, spectroscopic, lidar and radar data to investigate and monitor surface and atmospheric environments on Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System. In particular, expertise exists relating to vegetation monitoring for food security, land management, biodiversity, climate change and agriculture.

Further afield remote sensing datasets from Mars reconnaissance orbiter, ExoMars trace gas orbiter and Mars science laboratory, are analysed using similar software techniques investigating Martian minerology, change detection and atmospheric composition and profiling.

  1. Beyond Earth: Space research

Radiation damage effects: Specialising in space radiation and radiation damage effects, which includes radiation modelling and simulation using SPENVIS, GEANT4, FASTRAD etc. and experimental campaigns at proton, electron, gamma and X-ray facilities and beamlines around Europe.

  1. Facilities and other

Microbiology in extreme environments: Specialising in the investigation of microbial processes in extreme environments and the response of microorganisms to the harsh conditions of space. The research involved a combination of laboratory-based research, field based around the world and instrument development for space experiment.

Environmental simulator facilities: Mars chamber, small Mars chamber, icy bodies chamber, static parr bombs and bioreactors, special atmospheres and adaptable terrain facility.

Hypervelocity facilities: All-axis light gas gun, drop rig, low speed gun and Van de Graff generator.

Imaging & spectroscopy facilities: Scanning electron microscopy, electron microprobe, NanoSIMS, laser ICP-MS, stable isotopes, Oxygen 3 -Isotope, mass spectroscopy, vacuum mass spectrometer, gas chromatography mass spectroscopy, raman spectroscopy and argon/argon & noble gas.

Robotics facilities: Rover and Mars yard, baxter large collaborative robots and radio telescope: ARROW.

Communications facilities: UHV/VHF spacecraft ground station and satellite simulator.

Cleanroom facilities: Clean fabrication facility, clean petrography suite, sample curation facility and instrument development laboratory

Training: Offering training on CCD detector fundamentals and CMOS detector fundamentals as well as an online education platform. The University also offers a master programme in space science and technology.

Innovation advisor

Martine Harvey:

Find out more over at The Open Universities website