Mullard Space Science Laboratory

Coordinates: 51°10′18.6″N 0°25′14.8″W / 51.171833°N 0.420778°W / 51.171833; -0.420778

Mullard Space Science Laboratory
Established 1966
Director Prof Alan Smith
Location Holmbury St Mary, United Kingdom
Students Post-Graduate
Faculty Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Member of University College London

The UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) is the United Kingdom's largest university space research group. MSSL is the Department of Space and Climate Physics of the University College London. UCL was one of the first universities in the world to conduct space research. Since its establishment, MSSL has participated in 35 satellite missions, 10 of which are currently in operation, and in over 200 sounding rocket experiments.

It takes its name from Mullard Limited, and is located in Holmbury St Mary in the Surrey Hills AONB, near the town of Dorking in the county of Surrey, England.


In 1957 Sir Harrie Massey of UCL directed the first Skylark rocket experiments. In 1962 Massey led a team from UCL, Imperial College London, the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester that developed many of the instruments on Ariel 1, the world's first multinational spacecraft. By 1966 the demands had outgrown the laboratory space available in London and Massey asked his colleague Robert Boyd to set up a laboratory, with generous funding from the British electronics company Mullard which had helped to set up the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory (MRAO) at the University of Cambridge.

At that time, Boyd was the leading British researcher in space science. Joint funding from Mullard and UCL led to the expansion of his research programme and resulted in the creation of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in 1966. Dedicated premises were selected near Dorking, Surrey in an oak-panelled house at Holmbury St. Mary, set in beautiful grounds, where the laboratory as been based ever since.

By this time the UCL group had been involved in providing instrumentation for over 100 rocket launches, mainly from the Woomera Test Range in Australia, but with the recent founding of the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), with Massey as chairman, they were increasing involved with European as well as American projects.[1] They produced the electron spectrometer for NASA's Cassini mission, the spectrometer for ESA's Herschel Space Observatory and the UV/Optical Telescope for the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer.[2]

MSSL facilities

Solar UK Research Facility (SURF)

As a part of the research undertaken within the Solar & Stellar Physics group, SURF collaborates with Yohkoh, SOHO/CDS, and TRACE to produce CHIANTI [3] The CHIANTI package is freely available to all researchers subject to the condition of proper acknowledgement in all resulting publications.

The Grid

The European Grid of Solar Observations (EGSO)[4] is a project funded by the European Commission under its Fifth Framework Programme. EGSO uses Grid technology to create the fabric of a virtual solar observatory.[5] MSSL is involved in three components of the Grid.

Technology Management Group (TMG)

TMG offers research facilities and consultancy to support the development, management and exploitation of technology within an enterprise context through two main centres.[8]

Scientist holding a CubeSat in front of MSSL's thermal vacuum facility

Smart Optics

The Smart Optics Faraday Partnership is an active network of more than 100 businesses and academic groups with the common aim of generating new enabling optical technologies and successfully applying them commercially in a diverse range of markets. Smart Optics working on such products as the Smart Ophthalmoscope, illuminated retail signage, and ultra precision surfaces. Faraday Partnerships are intended to promote improved interaction between UK research institutions and industry.

Test facilities

The MSSL Mechanical engineering group operates a number of test facilities which include a vacuum bakeout facility, thermal vacuum facility, a vibration facility, a cleanroom facility, Laser and Sputter coating facility, a Westbond wire bonding facility, ultrasonic cleaning facilities, and a mechanical engineering workshop.

MSSL participation in space missions

Since it was formed, the MSSL has worked on a number of different solar physics hardware projects. Its earliest involvement came with an experiment on Ariel-I that made the first spectroscopic X-ray observations of solar flares. Other instruments were later flown on the OSO-4, ESRO-II, OSO-5, and OSO-6 missions. Instruments built have also flown on the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM), the Coronal Helium Abundance Spacelab Experiment (CHASE) which was part of the Spacelab-2 missions. More recently, MSSL has played a significant role in the Swift mission. MSSL engineers participated in building and testing the Ultraviolet Optical Telescope (UVOT) instrument on Swift.

In the future MSSL plans to participate in the Solar-B and STEREO missions. For Solar-B, MSSL is leading a consortium building the EUV Imaging Spectrometer (EIS) which will provide plasma diagnostic in the solar chromosphere, transition region and corona.

Collaborative agencies


The content of this article was adapted from the MSSL Online site .

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