SRC: Operational Space Missions

The Space Research Centre has delivered technology for the following operational space missions.


Swift is a US/UK/Italian satellite launched in 2004 designed to study gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The NASA-led Swift is unique in that it can autonomously detect GRBs and re-point within a few seconds, allowing them to be measured while they are still bright. Swift has been making detailed observations of around 100 GRBs a year.  Each GRB can be associated with the creation of a black hole, and GRB research has been at the forefront of high energy astrophysics since the late 1990s.

The University of Leicester provided the X-ray camera, the X-ray mirrors and the UV/optical telescope in addition to the telescope alignment monitor, designed to ensure that the GRB position reports have the best possible accuracy. In the operational phase, the University of  Leicester hosts the UK Swift Science Data Centre.

 Swift Satellite


XMM-Newton, the European X-ray Multi-Mirror (XMM) telescope is the most sensitive X-ray telescope ever built, using mirrors and detectors from the Space Research Centre.  It is named after Isaac Newton and is dedicated to investigating the many astronomical objects that emit X-rays:

  • Gas falling into Black-holes
  • Stars with powerful magnetic fields
  • Shock fronts surrounding comets
  • Aurora around planets
  • Compact objects, like neutron stars and white dwarfs
  • Glowing nebula left behind by dying stars


NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia in July 1999.  Chandra is designed to observe X-rays from high-energy regions of the universe, such as the remnants of exploded stars.  The Space Research Centre developed and provided micro channel plate optics for this mission.  The image on the right illustrates that the higher resolution capabilities of Chandra can reveal important new features in the Crab Nebula supernova remnant and its pulsar (left).  

Rosat Image     Chandra Image

Meteosat Second Generation

The Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget Instrument (GERB) is an Earth observing payload launched successfully aboard the Meteosat Second Generation satellite in August 2002. It is the first of a series of four instruments that aim to take long-term (15-20 years) observation of Earth's radiation budget - the difference between incoming solar radiation and outgoing thermal radiation - as a contribution to climate modelling. The detector focal plane assembly and front end electronics for GERB were developed and built in the Space Research Centre.

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