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WASPRAD

The Open University in Wales

The Open University in Wales
The Open University in Wales

The Open University’s facilities are based outside of Wales, mainly at their campus in Milton Keynes. However, the university operates across all four nations of the UK and is one of the largest in Wales by student enrolment, hence a summary of its relevant space research assets has been included in this report.

Students: 15,500 (152,245 UK wide)
Staff: 300 (5,105 UK-wide)

Contact for R&D Engagement:
Rhys Daniels
rhys.daniels@open.ac.uk

Research Strengths:
– Space observation
– Astrobiology
– Space law
– Astronomy and astrophysics

Space Research Areas:
– Astrobiology

Point of Contact:
Professor Karen Olsson-Francis

Website:
open.ac.uk/research-groups/astrobiology/research

Staffing:
Circa 25 academic staff, 11 postdocs, 14 research students

Collaboration History:
Involvement in international astrobiology research such as the NASA Mars Science Laboratory, ESA ExoMars and Expose missions. The group is closely affiliated to the European Astrobiology Institute, whose members include many major European universities. Collaboration with Airbus has focused on the use of space research for planetary protection and solving societal challenges.

Summary of Unique Capabilities:
The research is focused into four key themes: looking for evidence of life, planetary protection, using terrestrial environments as a space analogue, and societal impacts. The group aims to provide unique insight into these topics by drawing on expertise from a wide range of disciplines including science, governance, education, and international development.

Space Research Areas:
– Astronomy and Astrophysics
Space observation

Point of Contact:
Dr Helen Fraser

Website:
open.ac.uk/science/physical-science/astronomy

Staffing:
13 academic staff, 7 research staff

Collaboration History:
The group has a history of working with SMEs in Wales in the space sector (e.g. Space Forge and Spaceport Snowdonia). They have been involved in the UK’s South African Large Telescope Consortium, the Japanese AKARI survey mission, and Herschel’s SPIRE instrument. The Open University operates the OpenScience Observatories – autonomous robotic telescopes based on Tenerife.

Summary of Unique Capabilities:
Subdomains of research within the group include exoplanets (where OU leads the Dispersed Matter Planet Project), Astrochemistry, Astronomy Education, and Stellar Astrophysics. Some of the fundamental research undertaken by the group focuses on planetary formation and collision, evolution of stars, and the formation of ice in space.

Space Research Areas:
– Astronomy and astrophysics
– Space observation
– Data analysis

Point of Contact:
Professor Matt Balme

Website:
open.ac.uk/science/physical-science/research/planetary-space-
sciences/planetary-surfaces-and-atmospheres

Staffing:
8 academic staff, circa 10 PhDs

Collaboration History:
The group works with ESA & private companies on machine learning advances in the field of planetary surface physics. An ongoing International Space Science Institute team project with collaboration from 6 countries has focused on mapping the northern plains of Mars.

Summary of Unique Capabilities:
Currently the group’s research is directed towards the geology and geomorphology of terrestrial planets, and the weather and climate of planetary atmospheres. On the geological side, remote sensing and planetary mapping techniques including GIS and photogrammetry are used. Much of the work is focused on Mars and Mercury, but past projects have included Venus, large icy bodies, and exoplanets.

Space Research Areas:
– Astronomy and astrophysics
– Materials

Point of Contact:
Dr Anita Dawes

Website:
open.ac.uk/science/physical-science/research/physics/
laboratory-astrophysics

Staffing:
1 academic staff member

Collaboration History:
Research collaboration with the University of Aarhus in Denmark, using the ASTRID2 Synchrotron Facility to investigate the optical properties of ice mixtures. Fellowship in the group is sponsored through the Leverhulme Trust, a charitable organisation which aims to promote educational research.

Summary of Unique Capabilities:
Research is into experimental molecular physics and the chemical properties of ice formation in space. The group aims to pioneer methods for the replication of interstellar ice growth in a lab environment, including the use of acoustic levitation of aerosol particles.

Space Research Areas:
– Space observation
– Optics and photonics

Point of Contact:
Dr Geraint Morgan

Website:
open.ac.uk/science/physical-science/research/space-
instrumentation

Staffing:
6 academic staff, 7 research fellows

Collaboration History:
The space instrumentation group works closely with the European space agency, having collaborated on the Euclid, JUICE, and Athena missions alongside a handful of CubeSat projects. More generally, the Open University is a partner in the Space Research and Innovation Network for Technology (SPRINT) – a collaboration of 13 top UK space universities which has engaged with over 500 businesses since 2018 and accelerated the development of products and services using space data and technologies.

Summary of Unique Capabilities:
Expertise in this area at the OU began with work on instrumentation for Rosetta and Beagle 2 missions. Now, there are four themes of study: image sensor research and applications, spectroscopic and imaging techniques, analytical instrumentation, and habitats for space exploration. They work closely with others in the OU, such as the Planetary Environments and Astronomy Research groups, to ensure that devices are developed to meet the requirements of cutting-edge space research.

Space Research Areas:
– Space law
– Sustainability

Point of Contact:
Professor Leslie Budd

Website:
business-school.open.ac.uk/research/activity/spear

Staffing:
6 lead members, supporting involvement across several faculties

Collaboration History:
Some of the interdisciplinary projects supported by the research cluster include the ESA Exploration Roadmap in Socioeconomics (BEERS) and SpacePort Scotland. The group contributes to the Cross-Planetary Protection Committee.

Summary of Unique Capabilities:
The network is formed by cross-faculty collaboration, with lead members drawn from the business school, school of physical sciences, school of social science & global studies, and the school of computing & communications. This wide-ranging expertise gives the group a unique perspective on space research and allows it to evaluate the contribution of the space industry towards economic and sustainable growth.

Materials Engineering Group

The Materials Engineering Group hosts expertise in the fields of materials engineering, structural integrity, and metal fatigue. World-leading research in the behaviour of materials at high temperatures could have applications in rocketry or for structures designed to withstand atmospheric re-entry conditions. Research laboratory equipment includes a Residual Stress Facility for X-ray diffraction and contour method measurements, a High Temperature Facility for hot forming and creep testing, diffusion bonding equipment and a microscopy suite.

technology.open.ac.uk/materials/index.htm

Dynamic Earth Group

Research in the Dynamic Earth Group focuses on several main themes of geological processes – mountain and volcano dynamics, hypervelocity impacts, and the geochemistry of mantle, magma, and crust. As the research is all focused on earth processes and observation, it could be well supplemented by the use of downstream data from the space sector. The group already collaborates with the Paleoenvironmental Change and Astrobiology groups.

open.ac.uk/stem/environment-earth-ecosystem-sciences/research/
dynamic-earth

PIRATE Observatory
PIRATE telescope, the OpenScience Observatory, Tenerife
Image credit: the Open University

Strengthening the space sector in Wales

Space Research Areas

Welsh universities cover virtually the full range of space research areas

Supporting Organisations

Nine organisations that support space-related research in Wales

Resources

The RAD capabilities and facilities relating to the space sector in Wales

Contacts

Contact information for the Universities in Wales with Space sector capabilities