Space Technology and Planetary Exploration
Just days after NASA (America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration) announced its new space programme and their planned new manned spacecraft Orion, Europe's first spacecraft to the moon - SMART-1 - landed at two kilometres per second on the moon's Lake of Excellence.
Experts are predicting a golden age for solar system physics, space technology and astronomy. Europe's SMART-1 has ended a three-year mission that scanned the lunar surface from orbit and tested a new, ion-propulsion system that scientists hope to use on future interplanetary missions. Its X-ray and infrared spectrometers have gathered information about the moon's geology that scientists hope will advance their knowledge about how the moon's surface evolved and test theories about how the moon came into being.
NASA's Orion will make its first unmanned flight in 2013 and its first manned flight a year later. Initially it will take six astronauts to the International Space Station and a later version - later this year or 2020 - will take four astronauts to the moon where a lunar module will drop them on to the surface, first landed on by Neil Armstrong in 1969. NASA has not yet chosen its lunar landing sites: unlike the Apollo landers who were confined to the Moon's equator, the new spacecraft will have the capability to land anywhere on its surface.
There is news, too, that India and China are developing their own space exploration programmes, so it seems that the golden age of planetary space science is definitely dawning. Already this is reflected in the honours degree programmes offered by universities and in their projects. The Open University's Rocks from Space project has captured the imagination of countless primary school students - and perhaps yours will be captured by exploring the planetary and space science honours degree courses listed below.
Some of the listed courses focus on space science and space technology. Space science includes earth observation science - the study of the planet earth from space - and space technology is the means by which space science is done. These courses are underpinned by a core of physics and mathematics.
Example areas of study
Courses differ widely in their emphases, depending on whether their focus is, for example, physics, electronics or geology, and on the level at which you study. MPhys/MSci/MEng courses allow you to study the degree subjects at a greater depth and are usually chosen by students interested in research-oriented scientific or technological careers. The list below is intended to give you a guide to the topics offered so that you can compare and contrast these with other related degree courses to help you find out what your own particular areas of subject interest.
- Electronic engineering
- Theoretical and numerical physics
- Digital engineering
- Data structures
- Computer systems and networking
- Signals and communications
- Experimental space science
- Planetary science
- Science communication
- Life in the universe
- Spacecraft design and operations
- Electronics and circuits
- Quantum mechanics
- Theory of interplanetary exploration
- Space robotics
- Satellite remote sensing
- Optics and electromagnetism
Some career possibilities
Graduates have gone into research and development, technical management, computing, software design, the media, teaching and the aerospace, telecommunications and semiconductor industries. Another option is postgraduate research leading to a higher degree.
What do I need to get on a course?
You will need to check the entry requirements with the institutions that you wish to apply to before submitting your application. The list below will give you an idea of the grades and qualifications that are likely to be required.
- UCAS Tariff: 280 - 320 points, including mathematics and physics or computer science
- A-level: ABB - BBC including mathematics and physics or computer science
- SQA Advanced Highers: ABB - BBC including mathematics and physics or computer science
- International Baccalaureate: 34 - 38 points including mathematics and physics at higher level
- European Baccalaureate: 65 - 80% including mathematics and physics
For your application or interview, evidence of the following could be useful:
A demonstrable interest in the moon, stars and space would be an advantage at interview
For a great introduction to space and astronomy go to www.nasa.gov.
To find out more about the typical subjects you will study, potential career paths and further information useful for your application log-on to Course Discover at www.coursediscoveronline.co.uk*
*NB: Your school or college will need a subscription to Course Discover in order for you to gain access, for further information go to:www.coursediscover.co.uk
Some of this article was developed from You Want to Study WHAT?! Volume I, 2nd edition by Dianah Ellis, published by Trotman & Company Ltd, 2003.