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Space Technology Centre opens at University of Dundee


Lord Sainsbury, UK Minister for Science and Innovation will officially open the University of Dundee’s new Space Technology Centre that will carry out advanced research into planetary landing simulators and develop support technology for many space missions.

Opening on Friday 18 March the Space Technology Centre comprises the NERC Satellite Receiving Station at Dundee, The Space Systems Research Group and commercialisation activities including spin-out company STAR-Dundee.

Under the guidance of Dr Steve Parkes, the centre will develop new simulation tools and sensor models that realistically simulate landing a spacecraft on a planet or asteroid. In the most advanced technology of its kind in Europe, space agencies will be able to use the simulations to test planetary landers in different conditions to help ensure the real spacecraft will land successfully.

During the landing phase, spacecraft can encounter problems due to unknown conditions: craters or boulders at the planned landing site or even adverse lighting conditions or atmospheric effects. The simulation will guide a spacecraft through its landing phase on a planet or asteroid. By changing the variables such as terrain and atmospheric conditions the researchers can predict in what conditions the landing will be safe and make sure that the lander guidance system can cope with most unexpected situations. The European Space Agency (ESA) are already using the University’s simulations of Mars and Mercury to develop guidance and navigation systems for their own spacecraft.

The Space Systems Research Group at Dundee has had a major influence on the design of spacecraft onboard data-handling networks and led the technical work on the SpaceWire network standard, which is now being used on many ESA and NASA spacecraft. For example, ESA plan to use Space Wire technology in the 2009, Bepe Colombo flight to Mercury.

SpaceWire is a data-handling-network used onboard spacecrafts to gather, store and relay information to Earth. As the world leaders in SpaceWire research, the Dundee team are now working to develop a new, high-speed version, known as SpaceFibre.

From its beginnings, space research at the University has expanded and spin-out company STAR-Dundee is commercialising SpaceWire technology and now has partnerships with a range of blue-chip organisations across the world including ESA, NASA and Astrium, Europe’s largest manufacturer of spacecraft.

The NERC Satellite Receiving Station makes up the other half of the new Space Technology Centre. Supporting environmental scientists with earth observational data, the station supports key UK environmental projects.

Prof Steve Parkes said, “Development in space technology research in the University has moved rapidly since we first started out in 1997. Now for the first time, with the Space Technology Centre we can bring together our research, teaching and commercialisation to further advance our work. Our well focused research team will have a major effect on space craft electronic systems design across the world …and beyond.”

Angela Durcan | alfa
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