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Research degrees
Research areas
Planetary and space sciences
Artistic impression of Saturn

Planetary and Space Sciences

Research in planetary and space science (PSS) covers a wide variety of Solar System science and exploration. We investigate the origin and evolution of the Solar System through the physical, geological, chemical and biological processes that drive it. We use laboratory and space mission experiments, remote observation, environmental simulation and modelling to investigate the surfaces and atmospheres of the terrestrial planets, the Moon, asteroids, comets and extraterrestrial materials.

Research activity in PSS is funded mostly by the UK Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the European Union, but also draws in support from other research councils, charities and industry.

PSS has a long history of involvement in major Solar System exploration missions through the exploitation of instruments developed at the OU, such as on Cassini Huygens, Stardust, Genesis, Rosetta and ExoMars, and through international collaborative teams. PSS members are active in the development of new mission proposals and studies with ESA, other space agencies and national programmes. In addition we make use of international ground- and space-based observatories as well as in-house laboratory and simulation facilities. Research students are involved in all aspects of PSS research.

Each year we advertise 10 or more defined research projects and expect to recruit full-time postgraduate students to typically 2-4 of those projects, on fully funded studentships (providing fees and stipend). Part-time, self-funded postgraduate students on self-defined projects are only appointed in exceptional circumstances, where the projects closely match the interests and activities of staff members.

Key facts

  • We provide an interdisciplinary environment with around 50 staff including more than 20 postgraduate students.
  • We were part of the UoA7 submission from The Open University, which achieved 6th in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework power ranking (reflecting the quality and cohort size), with 77 per cent of our outputs achieving 3*/4* grades.
  • We offer student access to unparalleled laboratory facilities for analysis of extraterrestrial samples.
  • Opportunities to work with experienced researchers on active space and planetary missions.
  • Many large grants from a wide range of funding agencies.
  • Studentships funded by STFC available each year.


Our extensive laboratory facilities are broadly subdivided into those used to characterise the chemistry and isotopic composition of matter in the Solar System or the simulation of Earth and Planetary processes. Instruments include state-of-the-art commercially sourced (e.g. NanoSIMS;FIB-SEM; laser Raman microprobe; MS and GC-MS) as well as unique instruments developed in-house (e.g. ‘Finesse’ mass spectrometer; Mars atmosphere and surface simulation chambers; Cometary surface simulation chamber; All-Angle Light Gas Gun). These are backed up by clean rooms and sample preparation facilities, instrument development laboratories and an extensive meteorite collection. Students also have access to analytical facilities across the faculty, as well as the University research computer cluster.



Research topics

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Astrobiology and habitats for life

Comets and asteroids

Planetary formation and evolution

Planetary surfaces and atmospheres

Solar system formation


Related topics

Consider linked topics from other research areas.


Exoplanets and planetary physics


Spaceflight mass spectrometry