UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics


Clone of MSc in Space Science & Engineering (do not publish)

A one-year MSc/Postgraduate Diploma/Postgraduate Certificate programme in Space Science & Engineering with pathways in 'Space Science' and in 'Space Technology'.


Space is the ultimate frontier of human exploration in the quest for understanding the Universe. Going into space challenges all facets of human endevour, from physics, chemistry and engineering, to biology and medicine.Since the dawn of the space age over 50 years ago, the UK has reached out to explore, understand and exploit space for the benefit of all. With UK technology in orbit around Saturn, Mars, Venus and the Moon, as well as countless Earth-orbiting satellites, the UK has an enviable position at the forefront of world-wide space research. 


Further enquiries:

Link to Contact profile

How to Apply

The space industry contributes about £ 9Bn per annum to the UK economy, and UK science and engineering expertise today features in over 60 operational missions – from Herschel, the largest space telescope ever built – to Galileo, Europe’s first satellite navigation system. The space sector is very broad: from ‘upstream’ activities involving building and operating spacecraft and ground-stations, to ‘downstream’ exploitation of space assets for navigation, communications, remote sensing and space science.


Course Benefits:

  • High quality teaching and research project opportunities to develop the core skills of the space scientists and engineers of the 21st century.
  • MSSL is one of the leading research-led departments in its subject area worldwide, and conducts pioneering work into novel systems and applications; this is reflected in the innovative content of its teaching, which also builds on long-established links with industry.
  • From the collaboration of the two Departments the taught element is delivered by internationally known scientists that provide state-of-the-art technology and science content to the lectures.
  • A large part of the Programme is project-based, for which Master’s students work alongside top engineers building and testing instruments for space. 
  • MSSL enjoys close contact with space agencies such as ESA and NASA and with industrial research teams encourages the development of transferable skills, such as project management, which enhance job prospects.

Stephen Hawking
“I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I'm an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.” 

Recent successful graduates from the Programme have gone on to further degrees in Higher Education and then academic research, or have built successful engineering careers in the aerospace industry world-wide; others have entered a variety of professional occupations within multi-national organisations, or as IT and financial consultants and analysts with international banks and even the London Stock Exchange!

UCL: It IS rocket Science!

UCL (University College London) has been vigorously involved in space research since the early 1950s and most of its space activities are concentrated in the Department of Space and Climate Physics, incorporating the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL). Today the Laboratory is the largest university space science establishment in the UK, with a grade 5 rating in the National Research Assessment Exercise. MSSL possesses a world-wide reputation for high quality space research in a range of scientific disciplines, spanning astrophysics, planetary sciences, solar physics, space plasmas and more. The synergy between scientists and engineers working together in the same establishment is outstandingly successful in leading to develop instrumentation that perfectly matches the needs and requirements of the scientific research that is MSSL’s mission. 

  • Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge - it counts 28 Nobel Prizes among former academics and graduates.
  • UCL has about 27,000 students and more than 4,000 academic and research staff, including 920 professors (200 female, the joint highest number in the UK).
  • In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise UCL was rated the best research university in London for the amount of research considered of ‘world-leading quality’.
  • UCL is ranked 4th of the world's top universities, and 2nd only to Cambridge in the UK, by the QS World University Rankings (2013-14).
Space and Communications Research at UCL

University College London has been very actively involved in space research for many years and most of its space activities are concentrated at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL). This is a broadly based institute that was established in 1965 following a generous grant from the Mullard company. MSSL has gained a world-wide reputation for high quality space research in a range of scientific disciplines. The increasing importance of this work in space was recognised by the formation of the Department of Space and Climate Physics around the MSSL in October 1993.

MSSL's Astrophysics Group studies Galactic and extra-galactic X-ray sources such as neutron star and black hole binary systems, and active galaxies. Instruments have been built for space missions such as CopernicusAriel VAriel VI, EXOSATSpacelab 1 and the German-NASA-UK ROSAT, and most recently for ESA's X-ray astronomy XMM-Newton and NASA's gamma-ray burst Swift observatories. The Group is also involved in ESA's Herschel and Gaia missions, one launched in 2009 and the other due for launch in 2013.

The Space Plasma Physics and Planetary Science Groups study the interaction of the solar wind with bodies in the solar system (e.g. the Earth's magnetosphere) using innovative space instrumentation. MSSL played a leading role in the AMPTEmagnetospheric mission by building most of the UK sub-satellite and providing an instrument to measure ion velocities. A similar instrument on the Giotto spacecraft produced important results on the plasma and shock fronts around cometary nuclei. The Cassini mission, in orbit around Saturn, carries MSSL plasma instruments, and plasma analysers have also been developed for the four Cluster spacecraft, currently flying in formation in the Earth's magnetosphere. Instrumentation has also been provided for ESA's Mars and Venus Express missions.

The MSSL Theory Group applies physics and computational methods to seek general insight into exotic phenomena that are studied in space science. Theoretical modelling informs the interpretation of practical observation, while observation stimulates and constrains theories. Of particular interest are accretion onto degenerate stars, cosmology, gamma-ray bursts, isolated neutron stars, jets in active galactic nuclei, radiative transfer, ultra-compact binary systems, ultraluminous X-ray sources, X-ray sources in galaxies.

The Solar Physics Group has made observations of X-rays from solar flares with instruments on NASA's Solar Maximum Mission and the Japanese Yohkoh spacecraft, which have led to a better understanding of the energetic processes that operate during these events. A UV spectrometer was flown on the Spacelab 2 Shuttle flight and spectrometers were developed for ESA's Solar Heliospheric Observatory and the Russian Koronas mission. MSSL instrumentation is currently flying on the Japanese solar mission Hinode.

The Climate Extremes Group focusses on tropical storms worldwide, European extreme weather and global drought, offering innovative research and award-winning products to benefit the prediction and monitoring of these weather and climate extremes. The Group's quantitative warnings help industry, government and society to better manage the financial and humanitarian risks caused by extreme weather.

The Detection Systems and Cryogenics Groups support MSSL's flight hardware programme through developing the detectors and sensors used, by operating and maintaining specialist facilities, and by conducting a programme of strategic research. Areas of instrumentation supported by the group include microchannel plate detectors, comprising progressive geometry anode readouts, charge-coupled devices (CCDs), gaseous X-ray detectors, and cryogenic microcalorimeters including adiabatic demagnetization coolers. MSSL also has specialist teams of electronic, mechanical and software engineers who design, construct and test the space instruments.

The Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering has been at the forefront of research in microwaves, antennas and radar for two decades and has taken a leading role in research in optics and opto-electronics since the mid seventies.

Research topics relevant to the space technology field include: phased and active antenna arrays for communication systems and radar, dual reflector antennas for radar tracking and ground station applications, self phased arrays for mobile satellite communications, and Rotman lens antennas for multiple beam applications. In addition, research on microwave and millimetre-wave propagation has been extended to the optical waveband. Systems research includes bistatic radar systems, direction finding systems and a range of advanced altimetry and synthetic aperture techniques.

In the optical field, the Department was the first to establish the new field of optical fibre sensors, in which the optical technology is used for instrumental purposes with both industrial and avionics applications. The growing field of fibre optics is being researched for new components using thin film technology and significant developments have been made in optical switching and optical computing. Strength in this latter field is exemplified by the establishment of a British Telecom Chair in Opto-Electronics and two Lectureships funded by Solartron Transducers and GEC Research.

A convincing demonstration of the scale and relevance of all this work is the high level of external funding received by the two Departments from the UK Research Councils, the European Space Agency, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence and industrial companies.

MSc Programme Information

Entry requirements

The normal entry requirement for this MSc/Postgraduate Diploma/Postgraduate Certificate Programme is at least a second class Honours degree, or its equivalent. The main component of the applicant's degree subject should normally be physics or electronic engineering (for the pathway in Space Technology), or physics (for the Space Science pathway).

Duration and Structure - MSc Programme

The MSc Programme lasts for one calendar year (September - September). All lectures are given at UCL in London. During the first term (September - December) students attend Core lecture modules; these are examined in May or June, except for one module for each pathway that is examined earlier, normally before the end of the first term. During the second term (January - April) students attend four Advanced modules, each of approximately 30 hours duration, which are examined during that term or in May or June. See the link at the bottom of this page for details of the modules and options. Students start on an Individual Project during the first term and submit a Final Report in mid July. They then take part in the Group Project for the remainder of the Programme.

Lecture modules are of two types. One type modules run for a whole term, and are examined in May or June. The other type, so called 'short, fat' modules, are each taught over a single week, and are followed by a tutorial in a subsequent week and an examination a few weeks later.

Duration and Structure - Postgraduate Diploma/Postgraduate Certificate Programmes

The Postgraduate Diploma/Certificate Programmes operate concurrently with the MSc Programme, and are exit points for students who do not complete satisfactorily all the Programme components and do not attain the number of credits (180) required for an MSc award. See the link at the bottom of this page for further details.


In order to be eligible for an MSc award, a student must complete all components of the Programme satisfactorily. The Individual Project counts for one third of the overall average MSc mark. To obtain an MSc award, students must obtain the pass mark in the exams and the project work. The results are not classified like undergraduate degrees but for very good and exceptional performances marks of Merit and Distinction may be awarded respectively. Students who fail to reach the pass mark in an individual lecture module or project will have the opportunity to re-sit the examination in the following year.

For more details about the Programme structure and the syllabi of the taught modules, take a look at the Student Handbook (selected sections only). The information given here may be subject to amendment before or during the Programme referred to.

What can a Master's degree do for you?

The MSc Programme in ‘Space Science & Engineering’ incorporates two pathways: ‘Space Technology’ (ST) and ‘Space Science’ (SS).

The ST pathway is focussed on the application of space technology in industrial settings, and therefore has as its main objective: 

To provide a sound knowledge of the underlying principles which form a thorough basis for careers in space technology, satellite communications and related fields.

The SS pathway is focussed on scientific research applications of space technology; it aims:

To equip participants with a sound knowledge of the physical principles essential to sustain careers in space research and related fields.

The two pathways in the MSc Programme share a number of common aims and objectives:

  • To develop insights into the techniques used in current space missions.
  • To give in-depth experience of a particular specialised area, through project work, as a member of a research team.
  • To give experience of project team work, and to develop valuable skills such as report-writing and presentation skills, and working to deadlines.
  • To develop professional skills for the industrial or academic working life and train postgraduates who will be able to respond to the challenges that arise from future developments in this space era. 

The two pathways share a great deal, but there are important differences, especially in the Advanced Module options structure. Every student carries out an Individual Project over a period of about 9 months, and then all students work together as a team at the Group Project, over 6 weeks during the summer, culminating with a Project Design Review by a Panel of academics and aerospace professionals.

Core Modules common to both pathways are ‘Space Science, Environment and Satellite Missions’ and ‘Space Systems Engineering’. Advanced Modules taken by the Space Science students include ‘Solar Physics’, ‘Planetary Atmospheres’, ‘High Energy Astrophysics’,  two options in Remote Sensing and ‘Space Plasma and Magnetospheric Physics’. The latter three are also available in the Space Technology pathway, as well as ‘Space-based Communication Systems’, ‘Spacecraft design – Electronic and Mechanical’, ‘Antennas and Propagation’, ‘Radar Systems’.