Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
Successful completion of part 1 Physics
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 15 hours Lectures
Seminars / Tutorials 1 x 1-hour Seminar
Workload Breakdown Every 10 credits carries a notional student workload of 100 hours; 15 hours Lectures, 2 hours Presentation Forum, 1 x 1-hour Seminar, 7 hours Presentation preparation, 25 hours Poster research and preparation, 50 hours independent study.


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Exam 2 Hours   60%
Semester Assessment 1 x research essay (6 pages including diagrams)  20%
Semester Assessment Group poster project presentation  20%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Explain the influence of experiment mass on mission planning
2. Critically discuss the options available for transfers between planetary orbits with reference to the advantages and disadvantages of each approach
3. Calculate available bandwidth for communication between spacecraft and Earth and between surface robots and orbiters for a variety of scenarios
4. Discuss the limitations of command control for spacecraft and planetary rovers in a quantitative manner, with specific reference to communications timelag; discuss the advantages and problems with autonomous operation for both spacecraft and rovers
5. Critically discuss the issues of power supply, energy budgets and thermal limitations for different mission profiles
6. Justify selection of a particular choice of configuration for a planetary surface mission in the light of area to be covered, likely terrain, mission mass budget
7. Demonstrate how mission profile (lander/orbiter, duration, time-to-science-target, mass and energy budgets) are influenced by the science target of the mission
8. Discuss lessons learnt from past missions
9. Detail future missions and techniques

Brief description

The course provides an introduction to solar system exploration, with a strong emphasis on the use of autonomous robotic systems.


  • Basic principles of space exploration;
  • Launch systems and mass budgets;
  • Orbits, transfers and gravity assists;
  • Telemetry and bandwidth limitations;
  • Timelag for communication and the advantages and disadvantages of autonomous systems;
  • Power supply and energy budgets;
  • Thermal limitations;
  • Mobility on planetary surfaces;
  • Science drivers for experiment design and their influence on the overall mission;
  • Duration of mission and post-launch support decisions;
  • Data management;
  • History of past space missions;
  • Future space missions.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number All questions set in tests, example sheets and formal examinations will include numerical problems
Communication Written communication is developed via the research essay and lecture assignments. Visual communication is developed via the research poster project, and spoken communication via the presentation of the poster (5 minute presentation introducing the poster)
Improving own Learning and Performance Formative assignments are used in order that students might reflect on their progress during the module. The poster presentations will provide an opportunity to compare their work with those of other groups and form an idea of best practice
Information Technology Students will be required to research topics within the module via the internet. Word processing (or equivalent) skills will be required for the research essay, while use of a presentation package (or equivalent) will be needed for the poster project
Personal Development and Career planning The module will highlight the latest developments in this field and hence will assist with career development. The poster project, requiring students to work as a team to present a case for supporting their proposed instrument or mission is of importance in fostering career development.
Problem solving Problem solving is a key skill in physics and will be tested via lecture problem sheets, in the research essay and poster projects and in formal examination at the end of the module
Research skills A research essay, for which students are required to independently research one of a range of topics covered by the course forms 15% of the module assessment. Research skills will also be developed
Subject Specific Skills
Team work The poster project (presenting a pre-proposal for a mission or instrument) is a group assignment, so team work will be developed as students co-operate to research the various areas covered by the pre-proposal and develop the presentation


This module is at CQFW Level 5