Research affecting UK Government Space Policy and the UK Space Industry.
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leicester
Unit of AssessmentPhysics
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Physical Sciences: Astronomical and Space Sciences, Atomic, Molecular, Nuclear, Particle and Plasma Physics, Other Physical Sciences
Summary of the impact
Space has been identified as an area of economic growth by the UK
Government as a direct result of the 2010 Innovation and Growth Strategy
(IGS) for Space. This study has resulted in a transformational change with
the formation of the UK Space Agency, significantly increased investment
and new opportunities. The Unit contributed critically to the IGS and
resulting actions by stressing the underpinning nature of academic space
research and providing academic lead on key recommendations of the IGS and
its subsequent technology plan. The research has also significantly
impacted a number of companies increasing their research and development
and economic bases e.g. a Leicester based SME Magna Parva Ltd.
Space research within this Unit started in 1960 in X-ray astronomy and
has continued with Earth observation science being added in 1993 and
planetary science in 1997 (including planetary magnetospheres since 2000)
and space astronomy evolving to other wavelengths IR, UV etc. throughout
this period . The Unit, as a world leading institution in Space
research, has played critical roles as principal or co-investigators i.e.
instrument, mission and technology developers, and science leads in a
number of key "cutting edge" missions and instruments throughout this
period . Examples include Ariel V in 1974 which transformed
X-ray astronomy through to XMM  which has been the main stay of
X-ray astronomy since its launch in 1999 with the Unit providing the
XMM-Newton Survey Science Centre. Others include the SWIFT mission which
has transformed our knowledge of gamma-ray bursts , along with
Beagle 2, the ExoMars Raman instrument and the James Webb Space Telescope
Mid Infra-Red Instrument which will explore fundamentals of the early
The research has enabled the Unit and its related Space Research Centre
(SRC) to evolve an "end to end capability" i.e. from science through
instrument design, engineering, development, build and test for flight,
through mission operations to data analysis and new science. This has
enabled the staff to have a wide and "systems" view of space science, its
engineering and implementation, and hence be invited to provide invaluable
input to the IGS, the UK Space Agency and UK Government, especially in
areas of technology, capability and facilities as well as academic based
space research emphasising the underpinning value of space science.
The relevant research is predominantly based around novel instrument
development and their science. This work includes construction of X-ray
astronomy instruments built round charge coupled devices (CCDs) such as
ESA's XMM-Newton mission  the first mosaiced set of 7 X-ray
astronomy CCDs to cover a wide field of view which has provided new
catalogues of X-ray sources as well as studies of individual X-ray
sources. Research on X-ray optics has led to a unique new class of
lightweight X-ray optics which has found its first application in
planetary science measuring elemental composition on the planet Mercury
via the Bepi-Colombo mission .
The Unit led the instrumentation for the Beagle 2 lander to Mars as well
as the mission operations based at the nearby National Space Centre
enabling the public and school children to directly witness spacecraft
operations. This work, despite the failure of the lander to communicate
after entry, has led to a capability resulting in further novel planetary
science instrumentation. This includes the Life Marker Chip (LMC) 
a world leading organic detection instrument based upon using
biotechnology based immuno-assays to detect organic molecules at the
ppm-ppb level and the Raman instrument the first such instrument to go to
Mars where the Unit is providing the focal plane as well as leading the
organic molecule/carbon detection aspects of the instrument .
Similarly Earth observation research has been involved in instruments and
resulting science from the Advanced Long Track Scanning Radiometer on
EnviSat and the Global Earth Radiation Budget instruments on various
operational METOP satellites .
References to the research
 Planetary, Earth Observation, Technology and Application Research
at Leicester: Sims, M., Pye, J. and Remedios J. (all UL), Observing
the Earth and Planets a Leicester Symposium, Astrophysics and Geophysics,
2012, 53, 2.1-2.8
 XMM-Newton: M.J.L. Turner (UL) et al. 63 co-authors
including following other UL personnel A. Abbey, M. Denby, L. Gretton,
A.D. Holland, K.A. Pounds, J.N. Reeves, S. Sembay, A.D.T. Short, J.
Spragg, M.J. Ward and S. Whitehead, Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2001, 365,
 SWIFT: N. Gehrels et al., 71 co-authors including
following UL personnel A.A. Wells, J. Osborne, A.T. Short, M.J.L. Turner,
M.J. Ward, R. Willingale, Astrophysical Journal, 2004, 611, 1005-1020.
 BepiColombo: G.W. Fraser (UL) et al. 47 co-authors
including following other UL personnel J.D. Carpenter, J.F. Pearson, A.
Martindale, J. Bridges, E.J. Bunce, T.J. Stevenson, D. Talboys, C.
Whitford, The Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer on Bepicolombo, Planetary
and Space Science, 2010, 58 (1-2), 79-95.
 Life Marker Chip: M.R. Sims (UL) et al. 29 co-authors
including following other UL personnel D. Pullan, J. Holt, O. Blake, J.
Sykes, P. Samara-Ratna, M. Canali, Development Status of the Life Marker
Chip Instrument for ExoMars, Planetary and Space Science, 2012, 72,
 ExoMars Raman: H.G.M. Edwards, I.B. Hutchinson, R. Ingley
(all UL), Raman spectroscopy and the search for life signatures in the
ExoMars Mission, International Journal of Astrobiology 11(4), 2012,
Details of the impact
The wide areas of research covered by the Unit have resulted in a very
considerable knowledge base, allowing the Unit to provide critical input
to the IGS study which has transformed UK Government Space policy and to
emphasise the underpinning value of academic space science and technology.
The 2010 IGS report [a] resulted in the formation of the UK Space
Agency in 2010 and Government recognition of Space as a key growth area.
The Unit was represented in the IGS by Prof. Mark Sims, co-chair of the
IGS Capabilities, Technologies and Facilities group who also sat on the
executive committee responsible for drawing up the final 16
recommendations. His knowledge of space science, technology,
instrumentation and mission implementation backed by departmental input
enabled him to play a leading role in the areas of the science and
academic related recommendations i.e. the need for a National Space
Technology Strategy, Skills Base, Science and ESA missions as well as
others. The IGS led to the National Space Technology Plan (NSTP) [b]
where as the only academic on the report's editorial board he again
supplied key input, and emphasised the underpinning role of academia. This
led to the formation of the National Space Technology Steering Group
(NSTSG) where Sims is one of only four academic members in an industry
dominated group totalling 27. The NSTSG advises the Government's Space
Leadership Council on Space independently of the UK Space Agency.
Similarly Prof. John Remedios has provided the science lead and academic
input as a member of the Steering Committee for the IGS restack/update
process just completed, which has further developed the original
recommendations and will be a key input into future policy. He has
championed the role of bilateral and science missions to build links for
The impact of the IGS and NSTP and their transformation of space policy
are fully acknowledged by the UK Space Agency [c]. In March 2011
the UK Government announced an initial £10M contribution to the NSTP which
resulted in a delivery programme [d] which states that the NSTP is
based directly upon the work and recommendations of the IGS Capabilities
group (co-chaired by Sims).
In 2012 as a result of the change in policy the UK made a ~25% increase
(~£50M/yr) in its ESA subscription [e] securing an estimated
£1Billion in UK industrial contracts which along with the NSTP will lead
to substantial additional opportunities for UK industry and academia. In
order to further promote growth the Technology Strategy Board has funded a
Satellite Applications Catapult Centre, a successor to International Space
Innovations Centre where the Unit was a founding academic member and Prof.
Martin Barstow was a board member.
Regarding direct work on influencing industry, one example here is the
development (started in 2007) of feature detection algorithms for
autonomous detection of geological features on Mars. This catalysed in
conjunction with industrial research on autonomy a series of EU and ESA
funded studies which have involved UK industry including Scisys Ltd. a UK
space software company. These include the ProViScout EU study [f]
and the related follow-on ESA SAFER study [g] where Leicester
supplies the project geologist and consultant regarding the algorithms, a
study critical post. ProViScout was the first of a number of space
autonomous vehicle projects undertaken by Scisys which has led to further
studies (e.g. SAFER), income and development research for the company
including a recent study for use of such vehicles in nuclear waste
Research impact has also occurred locally. The SRC has worked with an SME
Magna Parva Ltd (MP) company to develop technology for the LMC instrument,
originally intended for ExoMars and for the Bepi-Colombo MIXS instrument.
MP provided management and technical support to the LMC under a contract
with a total value of £0.9M (2008 to 2013). Immediate impact to the
company along with ESA contract work for MIXS was an income stream and
increased employment, which helped aid growth of the company and gained it
direct experience in working with ESA on large projects. In 2010 in an
UL/MP internal case study [h] the collaboration was estimated to be
worth an increased turnover of £650k and 7 new members of staff for the
company (doubling company size). LMC also led to spin-off developments
such as the ExoLab a stand-alone sample processing system, and recently a
new MP-funded spinoff company MPDx Technologies [i] which aims to
exploit such technologies in other important fields including medicine.
There are many other examples of the Unit producing industrial impact
provided additional income to larger companies including consultancies for
ESA studies on missions and technologies with for example EADS-Astrium and
Systems Engineering Assessment Ltd. For example, the Unit had a preferred
partnership with EADS-Astrium 2007-2012 [j] (currently being
Sources to corroborate the impact
[a] Space Innovation for Growth Study (IGS) Summary Report:
[b] National Space Technology Plan (NSTP): http://www.slideshare.net/Stellvia/uksa-national-space-technology-strategy
and associated presentations
[c] Role of IGS and NSTP in UK Space Policy:
[d] NSTP delivery Plan: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/ukspaceagency/docs/national-space-technology-programme.pdf
[e] UK Increase to ESA Subscription: http://www.bis.gov.uk/ukspaceagency/news-and-events/2012/Nov/uk-secures-1-2-billion-package-of-space-investment
[f] ProViScout EU Project: http://www.proviscout.eu/
[g] SAFER ESA Funded Study: (http://safertrial.wordpress.com/
[h] Magna Parva Ltd. and UL: https://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/space-ideas-hub/Case%20Studies/Case%20Studies/a-case-study-magna-parva-working-with-university-of-leicester
[i] MPDx Technologies: www.mpdx.co.uk/
[j] UL- Astrium Partnership: http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/space-ideas-hub/Case%20Studies/Case%20Studies/astrium-case-study