Mullard Space Science Laboratory

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Mullard Space Science Laboratory
Established 1966
Director Prof Alan Smith
Location Holmbury St Mary, United Kingdom
Students Post-Graduate
Faculty Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Member of University College London

The UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) is the United Kingdom's largest university space research group. MSSL is the Department of Space and Climate Physics of the University College London. UCL was one of the first universities in the world to conduct space research. MSSL has participated in 35 satellite missions, 10 of which are currently in operation and over 200 sounding rocket experiments since its establishment.

It takes its name from Mullard Limited, and is located in Holmbury St Mary in the Surrey Hills AONB, near the town of Dorking in the county of Surrey, England.


Main article: Mullard

In 1957 Sir Harrie Massey of UCL directed the first Skylark rocket experiments. In 1957 the British electronics company Philips-Mullard helped to set up the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory (MRAO) at the University of Cambridge. In 1962 Massey led a team from UCL, Imperial College London, the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester that developed many of the instruments on Ariel 1, the world's first multinational spacecraft. In 1964 Philips-Mullard produced a prototype electronic desk calculator as a technology demonstrator for its transistors and cold cathode indicator tubes.

At that time, Robert Boyd was the leading British researcher in space science and was based at University College London. Joint funding from Mullard and UCL led to the expansion of his research programme and resulted in the creation of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in 1966. Dedicated premises were selected near Dorking, Surrey where the laboratory has been based ever since.

The Royal Society Mullard Award for young scientists and engineers was set up in 1967. Philips continued to use the brand name "Mullard" in the UK until 1988.

MSSL facilities[edit]

Solar UK Research Facility (SURF)[edit]

As a part of the research undertaken within the Solar & Stellar Physics group, SURF collaborates with Yohkoh, SOHO/CDS, and TRACE to produce CHIANTI [1] - An Atomic Database for Spectroscopic Diagnostics of Astrophysical Plasmas. The CHIANTI package is freely available to all researchers subject to the condition of proper acknowledgement in all resulting publications.

The Grid[edit]

The European Grid of Solar Observations (EGSO) is a project funded by the European Commission under its Fifth Framework Programme. EGSO uses Grid technology to create the fabric of a virtual solar observatory. MSSL is involved in three components of The Grid.

  • AstroGrid: As part of the UK e-Science Initiative, UCL-MSSL is responsible for servicing as a repository for solar data from AstroGrid. Astrophysical and solar-terrestrial data are held elsewhere in the UK.
  • GRIDSTART: In order to encourage collaboration between the Grid projects that the European Commission is funding, a cluster has been created under the GRIDSTART Accompanying Measure project. EGSO is one of the founding partners of GRIDSTART.
  • UCL Grid: As part of University College London, MSSL is also involved in UCL Grid activities.

Technology Management Group (TMG)[edit]

TMG offers research facilities and consultancy to support the development, management and exploitation of technology within an enterprise context through two main centres.

  • UCL Centre for Systems Engineering (UCLse) works with the UCL Departments of Biochemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering Computer Science, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering to bring together expertise to develop systems engineering research, teaching and technology transfer.
  • Centre for Advanced Instrumentation Systems (CAIS) was formed in 1993 to promote and encourage interaction between Industry and Researchers at UCL working in the area of Advanced Instrumentation. It provides a base for the Postgraduate Training Partnership with Sira, has designed and implemented an MRes Course in Instrumentation, has introduced an MSc in Applied Instrumentation, and, in collaboration with the Centre for Systems Engineering, has created an MSc Course in Systems Engineering Management. In the commercial field, CAIS has formed the Specialised Instrumentation Group which has about thirty small and medium sized companies as members, providing seminars and forums covering topics of interest. CAIS also manages the University College London KTP Centre, and now co-ordinates Postgraduate training for a number of Faraday Partnerships.

Smart Optics[edit]

The Smart Optics Faraday Partnership is an active network of more than 100 businesses and academic groups with the common aim of generating new enabling optical technologies and successfully applying them commercially in a diverse range of markets. Smart Optics working on such products as the Smart Ophthalmoscope, illuminated retail signage, and ultra precision surfaces. Faraday Partnerships are intended to promote improved interaction between UK research institutions and industry.

Test facilities[edit]

The MSSL Mechanical engineering group operates a number of test facilities which include a vacuum bakeout facility, thermal vacuum facility, a vibration facility, a cleanroom facility, Laser and Sputter coating facility, a Westbond wire bonding facility, ultrasonic cleaning facilities, and a mechanical engineering workshop.

Scientist holding a CubeSat in front of MSSL's thermal vacuum facility

MSSL participation in space missions[edit]

Since it was formed, the MSSL has worked on a number of different solar physics hardware projects. Its earliest involvement came with an experiment on Ariel-I that made the first spectroscopic X-ray observations of solar flares. Other instruments were later flown on the OSO-4, ESRO-II, OSO-5, and OSO-6 missions. Instruments built have also flown on the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM), the Coronal Helium Abundance Spacelab Experiment (CHASE) which was part of the Spacelab-2 missions. More recently, MSSL has played a significant role in the Swift mission. MSSL engineers participated in building and testing the Ultraviolet Optical Telescope (UVOT) instrument on Swift.

In the future MSSL plans to participate in the Solar-B and STEREO missions. For Solar-B, MSSL is leading a consortium building the EUV Imaging Spectrometer (EIS) [2] which will provide plasma diagnostic in the solar chromosphere, transition region and corona.

Collaborative agencies[edit]


External links[edit]

The content of this article was adapted from the MSSL Online site [3].