Space missions are huge, collaborative research projects: scientists and engineers must work together to explore other worlds, and understand our own. And we also must engage with our sponsors – governments, publics and others – to communicate the value of our work and its wider outcomes.
My work therefore involves liaising with industry, businesses, research councils and space agencies to assemble and lead international collaborative teams for space mission studies, instrumentation development projects, contract R&D activities, scientific analysis services, consultancies, outreach and public engagement etc.
Current highlights include working at the forefront of international efforts to return to the Moon and explore the previously unvisited polar regions where water ice and other chemicals may have accumulated in a deep freeze over billions of years. This scientific treasure trove is key to understanding the role of water in our solar system. And if we can learn to extract it in useful forms such as hydrogen and oxygen, it could fuel the bases needed to sustain a human presence on the Moon and provide the springboard for human missions to Mars.
Below are some of the projects in which I have recently been involved [customer in parentheses].
- PROSPECT / ProSPA: I am leading the development of ProSPA, the instrument that will analyse samples as part of ESA's PROSPECT drilling and analysis tool for lunar exploration. ProSPA is a miniature chemical laboratory for extracting and analysing water and ices on board the Roscosmos-ESA collaborative mission Luna-27, which aims to land at the south pole of the Moon in 2022. The OU is being supported by Airbus Defence and Space (UK), RAL Space (UK), Dynamic Imaging Analytics (UK), Fluid Gravity Engineering (UK), Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Germany), Technical University of Munich (Germany), Media Lario Technologies (Italy). [PROSPECT is led by Leonardo S.p.A. under a progarmme of and funded by ESA]
- Rosetta: our gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer "Ptolemy" made the first ever chemical composition measurements on the surface of a comet on 12 Nov 2014 on board the Philae comet lander [UK Space Agency/ESA]
- Beagle 2 GAP (Gas Analysis Package): our gas analysis instrument was delivered to Mars on 25 December 2003 by Beagle2 but regrettably the lander failed to fully deploy and operations did not proceed.
- Handling Planetary Ices: supporting Selex ES in a study of how to sample and process cryogenic icy samples on the surface of the Moon. [Selex ES/ESA]
- Lunar Polar Sample Return: supporting Airbus in a feasibility study on returning fozen lunar samples for analysis in terrestrial laboratories. [Airbus DS/ESA]
- Phobos Sample Return: a pre-cursor study to experimentally test and model the surviviability of martian material under extreme stresses, to pave the way for a return to Earth of samples from Phobos and ultimately Mars [ESA]
- DUSTER: a project to design and breadboard a system for extending the performance of Mars lander missions by in-situ clearing of dust from solar panels. [Magna Parva Ltd./ESA]
- Miniature Mass Spectrometers for planetary exploration and space research: high performance rugged gas sensors for use on exploration platforms ranging from satellites, orbiters, kinetic penetrators, entry descent and landing systems, landers, rovers and instrumented moles to crew quarters in human spaceflight missions
- Gas control valves: patented high performance low mass devices for use in spacecraft and satellite propulsion systems and in gas control systems for instrumentation
- Planetary analogue research: developing Concepts for Activities in the Field for Exploration (CAFE) [ESA]
- CubeSats: mission studies and instrument development for the UK Space Agency's UKube programme [UK Space Agency]
- Radiation damage in CCDs and CMOS: fundamental and applied (Euclid, Gaia, Sentinel) projects characterising and mitigating the performance degradation of imaging sensors due to space radiation [ESA, e2v technologies, Astrium-D, JAXA, SSTL Ltd., UK Space Agency]
- Planetary Protection: various studies on designing space missions and building instruments compliant with requirements on the transfer of biologically significant materials to and from Earth [ESA, UK Space Agency, SEA Ltd.]