UCL News


David Willetts visits UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory

15 August 2013


David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, visited UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory on Tuesday 13 August.

The minister inspected a number of instruments which are being built at the laboratory for future scientific spacecraft, including Euclid, ExoMars and Solar Orbiter, as well as hearing about MSSL’s role at the heart of the UK and European space programme.

Mr Willetts’ visit marked the formal beginning of the testing and characterisation phase for the camera detectors that will fly on Euclid. Euclid is a future ESA space telescope which will study the dark cosmos – the 95% of the content of the Universe which is invisible.

Euclid’s detectors, which will form the heart of a huge and technologically advanced camera for space, are being built by UK company e2v, which has a long-standing and close relationship with MSSL, where the camera electronics are being built. After launch in 2020, Euclid will have the largest detector array in orbit, second only to the Gaia mission – also a project at MSSL – and will produce the largest images ever taken from space.

“We’re very pleased to have Mr Willetts formally instigate this test programme”, Prof Mark Cropper, lead of the Euclid camera said, “especially as it involves close collaborations between industry, agencies and academia across Europe. This is exactly the transfer of expertise and knowledge that is being sought by the government”.

It was wonderful to have the Minister visit MSSL. It shows the government recognises the world-leading space engineering and science we carry out at UCL.

Dr Lucie Green (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory)

The minister also visited the laboratories where the main camera for the ExoMars rover is being built. ExoMars, a joint mission of ESA and the Russian space agency Roskosmos, will be Europe’s first Mars rover, and is expected to touch down on the red planet in 2019.

MSSL is building the main camera system which will produce high quality 3D photographs of the rover’s surroundings. High quality imaging does not just provide pretty pictures: it is a key component of the scientific mission of such projects.

After visiting the ExoMars lab, the minister donned protective clothing to enter one of MSSL’s cleanrooms, where the electron sensor for the Solar Wind Analyser (SWA) instrument is currently being developed, built and tested. This device, one of 3 sensors being provided by the international SWA consortium led by MSSL, will be part of the scientific payload for ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission, planned for launch in 2017. In addition to the lead role in SWA, MSSL is also heavily involved in the development of the Solar Orbiter EUI instrument, making the laboratory one of the main providers of scientific instrumentation for the mission.

Solar Orbiter will have an orbit which will take it close to the Sun (inside the orbit of Mercury) and allow it to travel fast enough to be able to track, over extended periods of time, features on the Sun’s surface as it rotates. The mission has a unique scientific payload which will both allow detailed study of these features, together with the direct sampling of plasma and charged particles which they eject into the Solar system via the Solar wind. The spacecraft’s orbit will also take it out of the plane of the Earth’s orbit, providing viewpoint looking ‘down’ on the poles of the Sun – regions which have never been clearly seen by any probe before.

MSSL scientist Lucie Green, who organised the minister’s visit, said: “It was wonderful to have the Minister visit MSSL. It shows the government recognises the world-leading space engineering and science we carry out at UCL.”

Image: Rt Hon David Willetts MP