Innovating to explore


Humans have always looked outwards from Earth and wondered.

New technologies are giving us a better understanding of our own planet and its place in the universe.

Driven by the urge to explore, we push ever further into the depths of space. What might we find there?

How is the UK travelling beyond our planet? 

Among the Stars

Called ColKa for ‘Columbus Ka-band Terminal’ the device was designed and built by MDA UK, based in Harwell, Oxfordshire, UK. This aerial helps send information back to Earth almost instantaneously, revolutionising scientists’ ability in the UK and Europe to access the results of their space-based experiments. The data will be transmitted to a ground station at Harwell  and from there it will be transferred to the Columbus Control Centre and user centres across Europe.

Image credit: NASA

Seeing deep space

Since the Hubble telescope was first launched in 1990, it has made more than 1.4 million observations of various stars, planets and galaxies littering our Universe.As the school-bus-sized telescope whizzes around Earth at a breezy 27,000 kilometres per hour (17,000 mph), it can point itself towards a far-off scene with the accuracy of a laser beam shining on one specific detail of a coin roughly 320 kilometres away (200 miles). British Aerospace Bristol made Hubble’s replacements solar panels and the UK played a major role in the ‘Faint Object Camera’, professors from Royal Observatory Greenwich and University of Cambridge, and many more were involved.

Image credit: NASA

Sun heat

Solar Orbiter is studying the sun up close and from high latitudes, providing the first images of the Sun’s poles and investigating the heliosphere, a bubble like region around the Sun. The craft is within almost a quarter of Earth’s distance from the Sun, suffering from temperatures of up to 520°C. UK teams from University College London, Imperial College London and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are involved in 4 out of the 10 instruments. Airbus Defence and Space also built the majority of the spacecraft. 

Image credit: ESA

Exploring far and wide

UK space scientists, led by the University of Leicester, developed one of the key instruments on- board BepiColombo: MIXS (Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer). MIXS will be used to help find out about what the planet’s surface is made of. This will help to explain how the planet formed during the early history of the Solar System.

Life on Mars

Built at Airbus in Stevenage, in the UK, the Rosalind Franklin robotic rover will begin its journey to Mars in 2022. It will drill into the planet’s surface to collect samples and search for signs of life before sending its findings back to earth. Part of the ExoMars project, the Rosalind Franklin Rover is named after the famed British chemist. 

Image credit: ESA