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Space & Climate Physics - the Mullard Space Science Laboratory

Director: Prof Alan Smith

The only department in the faculty to be largely based outside London, the Department of Space and Climate Physics at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) has been at the heart of the UK space programme since its foundation in the 1960s. 

From its involvement in early sounding rockets (pictured on p40) and Ariel 1, Britain’s first satellite, to today’s international collaborations, MSSL has consistently been a world-class centre of expertise in space science.

MSSL’s main base of operations is Holmbury House, near Dorking in Surrey, with additional staff on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus and at UCL Australia in Adelaide. 

In contrast to the genteel countryside and elegant grounds that surround the house, the department’s buildings are filled with ultra-modern laboratories in which scientists and engineers build satellites and spacecraft instruments. 

Current missions which MSSL is involved with include the XMM-Newton and Swift space telescopes, the Hinode solar physics satellite and Mars Express. MSSL is also building key components of the James Webb Space Telescope (the successor to Hubble) Solar Orbiter and the ExoMars rover. 

Herschel, the biggest space telescope ever launched, was part-built by MSSL, as were Cassini (a Saturn probe) and Cluster, a constellation of four satellites that has been monitoring the magnetosphere for the past ten years.

Space science is a highly internationalised discipline, so it is no surprise that MSSL has an impressive range of collaborations with space agencies around the world. As well as contributing to numerous NASA and European Space Agency missions, the department also has longstanding partnerships with Russia and Japan. MSSL has also been one of the main institutions involved with Hinode, a Japanese solar physics satellite, and is participating in planning for Solar-C, Hinode’s successor.

The department has a wide range of industrial engagements. For instance it has provided hardware under contract to Astrium Germany for the James Webb Space Telescope (the planned replacement to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope) and Gaia (the next European Space Agency stellar astrometry mission). 

Tailored industrial training programmes in Systems Engineering and Project Management have been provided to several industries including Astrium, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Selex, Ultra Electronics and ESA. Moreover, the department works with industry in the planning of future mission concepts, such as working with Astrium UK in the study of a mission to Uranus.

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