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Physics and space

In this wholly online module, you’ll examine fundamental concepts in physics and the space sciences. Its nine highly relevant topics and practical activities will help prepare you to study physics, astronomy or planetary science at OU level 2. You’ll learn through solving physical science problems while acquiring computer programming knowledge and practising your existing maths skills.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
1 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

To begin, you’ll develop your understanding of different scales – particularly those that are much larger or smaller than will be familiar to you. Through the nine topics, you’ll then meet concepts and principles in classical and quantum physics and the space sciences. Alongside each topic, you’ll practise your maths skills, applying them to problems in physical sciences. You’ll also be introduced to computer coding, using the Python programming language.

Topic 1 – Forces around you
You’ll explore the types of forces encountered in everyday life, including elastic and frictional forces, as well as gravitational and electromagnetic forces.

Topic 2 – An introduction to energy
You’ll meet the concept of energy and the idea of energy conservation. You’ll learn about some of the different forms that energy can take, including kinetic energy and potential energy, as well as the notions of work and heat.

Topic 3 – Material worlds
You’ll examine how the microscopic structure of materials – at the level of atoms, ions, and electrons – explains some of the ways in which materials behave, through the concept of chemical bonding.

Topic 4 – The quantum realm
This topic will introduce you to the world of quantum phenomena, including the uncertainty principle, wave-particle duality and quantum numbers in atoms – leading to an understanding of the periodic table.

Topic 5 – Energy in society
You’ll explore different fuel sources and look at how energy is used to heat our homes and in transport.

Topic 6 – Nuclei and particles
You’ll learn about the subatomic components of the world around us, including radioactivity and the fundamental particles of matter, as well as the processes that govern their interactions.

Topic 7 – Components of the Universe
You’ll explore the galaxies, stars and planets that make up the Universe and understand how astronomers are able to study objects that are very distant from Earth, including exoplanets and dark matter.

Topic 8 – Exploring the Solar System
You’ll discover for yourself how the various planets, moons, asteroids and comets of our Solar System are explored using landers and remote-sensing spacecraft.

Topic 9 – How the Universe works
You’ll learn about the expansion and cooling of the Universe, how it evolved from the Big Bang to the present day, and its likely future.

Practical work
Some topics include home-based experiments, which you’ll carry out using everyday items. You’ll also conduct two online practical activities: based on data from a weather station and using a radioactive particle detector called a cloud chamber. The online activities provide you with opportunities for collaborative teamwork with your fellow students.

Computer programming
You’ll also be introduced to computer coding, using the Python programming language. Throughout your learning, in a series of dedicated study weeks, you’ll develop your understanding of coding and apply your newly developed skills writing simple programs to solve physical science problems.

You will learn

You’ll learn key physics, astronomy and planetary science concepts and develop your own scientific thinking. You’ll learn fundamentals of computer programming relevant for applications in physical sciences and practice applying your mathematical skills to problems in physical sciences. You’ll also develop your skills for learning online, for working collaboratively, and for reflecting on your own development.

Vocational relevance

While exploring a variety of interesting topics, you’ll develop your problem-solving abilities and improve your computing, mathematical and communication skills. These are valued in all work contexts, but particularly in jobs requiring a precise and quantitative approach.

Outside the UK

You’re welcome to study this module from outside the UK; after all, modern science is an international endeavour. Be aware, however, that we’ll timetable tutorials to suit GMT working patterns. In addition, some experiments require the use of items commonly available in UK homes, which may not necessarily be so readily available elsewhere.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


You’ll submit four TMAs (tutor marked assignments) using our online eTMA system and contributing 39% to your overall score (7%, 6%, 13% and 13%, respectively). We’ll assess you on the activities you complete as part of the topics, as well as the practical and computer-programming tasks.

You’ll sit an examination at the end of the module, which contributes 61% to your overall score. We’ll base the examination around materials such as articles, data, figures and graphs. These materials will be available in advance to help you prepare. As well as assessing your knowledge and skills, this exam will give you practice for exams you’ll sit at Stages 2 and 3 of your qualification which affect its classification.

Future availability

Physics and space (SM123) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    You’ll need:

    • some understanding of basic ideas in physical science, for example: atoms; waves and electromagnetic radiation; planets and stars
    • to be familiar with basic mathematics, algebra and trigonometry
    • to be able to understand written English of the standard of a broadsheet newspaper; and write clearly and concisely, structuring short pieces so they flow coherently
    • to be able to log on to the Internet, find websites and communicate by email; and create, save and retrieve documents using basic word processing skills. No previous experience of computer programming is assumed.

    You’d normally prepare yourself by completing introductory OU level 1 study as part of one of our physical-science qualifications, having passed Questions in science (S111) and passed or be studying Essential mathematics 1 (MST124) – as you’ll build on your existing study skills, maths, practical and investigative skills.

    Check you're ready with our self-assessed quiz.

    If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

    Preparatory work

    If it’s been a while since you studied science or maths, or you’re new to using a computer to access online resources, you may need to spend slightly longer on the study materials. An adviser will be able to discuss with you how much extra time you’re likely to need and whether you should consider completing an Access module or some preparatory study before beginning this module.


    Start End England fee Register
    09 Oct 2021 Jun 2022 -

    Registration now closed

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2026.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Field school/lab school

    This module has an optional field school/lab school. You must pay an additional charge for tuition, accommodation and meals (see module details for further information). You must also pay for your travel to and from the venue. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with online alternatives.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 28/09/2021.

    What's included

    Physics and space is wholly online – we will provide the study materials, study guide, activities, assignments, forums, online tutorial rooms and other resources via a dedicated website. It contains significant amounts of multimedia materials including audio tracks, videos and animations, as well as interactive activities and experiments. Where possible, the materials are also available in other formats – including PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word – to enable you to study on the move.

    You will need

    You’ll need a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of diagrams or graphs you may need to draw for inclusion in your assessments.

    You’ll need a simple scientific calculator of the type sold as suitable for GCSE/A-level use. The calculator on your mobile phone, tablet or computer won’t be suitable as your only calculator.

    You’ll find it useful to have a notebook and pen for note taking and working out your answers to self-assessment questions and activities.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SM123 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.