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UK to design new instrument to measure climate change and study star formation in space

10 October 2017

Computer generated image of the Terahertz Atmospheric/Astrophysics Radiation Detection in Space

(Credit: TARDiS Collaboration)

UK scientists will play a key role in designing a new instrument to sit on board the International Space Station (ISS) that will not only monitor the effects of climate change on the Earth’s atmosphere but will also help us to better understand the origins of stars and planets.

TARDiS (Terahertz Atmospheric/Astrophysics Radiation Detection in Space) would measure the present state oxygen atoms of the uppermost atmosphere, and present new insights on how the composition of the atmosphere is affected by climate change. The project will also take images of deep space, tracing the birth and evolution of the stars and planets.

A team of researchers from across the UK will work together to design a satellite payload, which will be designed to fit on board the Bartolomeo platform of the ISS and could advance our understanding of earth observations and astronomy. The instrument will be designed to measure the emitted radiation from oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere and the interstellar medium using Terahertz remote sensing.

The work will be led jointly by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space facility and Oxford’s Department of Physics, with collaboration from the Open University, University of Leeds, University College London, STAR Dundee and Airbus UK.

Dr Jolyon Reburn, Head of the Earth Observation Division at RAL Space, said: “The development of TARDiS, based on novel and ground-breaking Terahertz sensing technology, will not only enable us to measure the global distribution of atomic oxygen in the upper atmosphere and to understand how this region affects the climate of Earth, but will also help us better comprehend the process of star formation and the origin of the Universe.

“This important design study will allow us to refine the instrument payload requirements and specifications for integration with the ISS Bartolomeo platform.”

Backed by £75k study phase funding from the UK Space Agency, the project will run as part of the Human Spaceflight Microgravity Programme and in conjunction with a second ISS venture for the renowned UK astronaut Major Tim Peake.

The novel technology used in TARDiS development will serve as a demonstration for the payload elements to be used in the forthcoming LOCUS (Low Cost Upper Atmosphere Sounder) astronomy and FIRSPEX (Far-Infrared Spectroscopic Explorer) astronomy missions.

Dimitra Rigopoulou, the project’s Principal Investigator and Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University, said: “The TARDiS instrument is a pathfinder for two new space missions, the Low Cost Upper Atmosphere Sounder (LOCUS) for earth observations and the Far-Infrared Spectroscopic Explorer (FIRSPEX) designed to probe the origins of stars and planets in the Universe. The potential deployment of TARDiS on the ISS is an essential requirement for both of these international space missions as it demonstrates the technological readiness of the projects.”

Notes to editors

RAL Space is an integral part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). RAL Space carries out world-class space research and technology development with involvement in over 210 space missions.

Oxford University Department of Physics

Science and Technology Facilities Council
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