The University of Southampton
Engineering and the EnvironmentOur research

Space Environment Group

Understanding the space environment is crucial not only when creating things to go into space (i.e. spacecraft engineering), but also for understanding and forecasting the potential threat to earth (e.g. near earth objects, solar energetic particle events etc).  Cutting edge research in these areas, by the group, enables space missions to be planned and conducted more safely and has also provided valuable tools to help governments and policy makers to make informed decisions about space-related issues.

Our particular interest in this area includes:

The group has been working on space debris modelling since 1992 and over the years have developed state-of-the-art software (DAMAGE, SHIELD and FADE) to help predict and simulate the numbers of orbital collisions and resulting fragments, trajectories of debris clouds, their response to potential debris-mitigating policies and suggestions for active removal.  The software can also be used to optimise spacecraft design for maximum protection against debris and meteoroids. 

Another set of software (NEOSim, NEOImpactor and NEOMiSS) has been developed which allows extensive simulation of Near Earth Objects impacts.  Near earth objects (NEOs) are essentially asteroids or comets in Earth-crossing orbits that pose an impact threat.  Even a relatively small object (50m in diameter) would have a devastating effect if it fell in a populated area - a catastrophe greater than earthquake, flood or hurricane.  The software the group has developed can be used to predict the effects of such disasters as well as assess the results of different mitigation strategies.

Following his extensive work in the area, Dr Hugh Lewis has been selected as the representative for the UK Space Agency on the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), the intergovernmental forum for discussing space debris issues. In 2011 he was also nominated as the UK's representative to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space working group on Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities.

Extensive and highly innovative work is currently being undertaken in the field of understanding and predicting Solar Energetic Particle Events and other sun-associated aspects of space weather.  The results, obtained using a novel modelling methodology, are striking and seem to indicate that these events are not as random as previously thought.

In 2009, atomic oxygen sensors developed in collaboration with the Engineering Materials research group were used as part of the MEDET (Materials Exposure and Degradation Experiment) module of EUTEF (European Union Technology Exposure Facility) which flew on the space shuttle Columbus.


Major industrial partners include QinetiQ, EADS-Astrium and DHConsultancy.  Funding and support is also provided by EPSRC, British International Studies Association, UK Space Agency, Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, European Union Framework 7 programme and the European Space Agency.

We have also collaborated closely with colleagues from the University of Barcelona and the University of Leuven


Our research strengths

Remote sensing

Spacecraft structures

Space systems engineering

Artificial intelligence, spacecraft autonomy and control

Created using software developed by the Astro group
Simulation of space debris
Simulating the collision of in 2009 of the US Iridium satellite and a defunct Russian satellite
Simulation of a satellite collision

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