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The future of space exploration with the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation

  • 21 October 2021
  • 24 min listen

The University of Portsmouth has announced its strategy to become a world leader in space science across the next decade.

In this episode, staff from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation explain their role in the UK’s ambitious plan to double investment in the space economy by 2030.

From galaxy collisions to baby black holes

Dr Laura Nuttall and Professor Claudia Maraston discuss some of their work in the podcast, including how the LISA mission (a partnership with the European Space Agency) will allow researchers to study the mysterious and elusive gravitational waves hiding in our universe. These ripples in the fabric of spacetime result from events such as black hole collisions:

We’ll be able to learn more about the structure of galaxies, stellar evolution, the early universe and the nature of spacetime and gravity itself.

Dr Laura Nuttall, Senior Lecturer

By combining many achievable missions, both large and small, scientists from across the disciplines will be able to look out into the galaxy and back to earth too. By layering knowledge and applying it in different fields, there’s scope for powering research and learning at an impressive rate:

There are so many missions coming online in the next few years. Over the next decade or so, all of these facets will be linked together in a wonderful interdisciplinary manner.

Dr Laura Nuttall, Senior Lecturer

Why Portsmouth can lead in space science

Professor Adam Amara explains that the University of Portsmouth already has some impressive credentials in the analytics of data from outer space and is research-based on this. But in order to take its contribution to space science to the next level, the plan is to invest in teaching and development of the next generation of space scientists.

Portsmouth is uniquely placed to work with other space partners in the South Coast region, too: from the hundreds of space businesses based here to other universities and research facilities. This is also vital in meeting another strategic goalpost to begin designing and engineering the technology that allows researchers to build and launch their own missions.

What's a Cubesat?

One of the most exciting innovations for researchers in earth and environmental sciences, space sciences and more, is the burgeoning Cubesat programme here at Portsmouth. These tiny satellites are quick and affordable to launch when compared with the space missions of the 20th Century.

Cubesats are small satellites; they can be 10 x 10 x 10 centimetres. If you can fit your instruments in that space, you can target very specifically what these things can measure.

Professor Adam Amara, Professor of Cosmology

Incredible pace of advancement

It’s Professor Amara’s plan that any Portsmouth researcher will be able to propose a mission and have the support and expertise to develop it here at the University, speeding up the pace of work by years in many cases:

Thanks to advancements in technology and investments from commercial companies, if you’re targeted and you’re focussed, you can do interesting projects on normal scientific lab timescales of 3-5 years.

Professor Adam Amara, Professor of Cosmology

Where the Cubesat programme is on a smaller scale of research, there are some moon-shot bids in action too. Professor David Bacon discusses the University’s hopes to build the biggest radio telescope in the solar system… on the far side of the moon!

The Lunar Crater Radio Telescope is an incredible NASA partnership. It’s already gone through two phases of funding, and it’s hoped that this ambitious project will be able to explore events that pre-date the universe’s history.

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