Skip to main content


Our scientists and engineers are at the forefront of global innovation. Experts from our world-leading Physics Department are leading on two pioneering projects that will develop optical technologies for future satellites instrumentation and transform our observations of the Sun and high energy astrophysics.

Funding from the UK Space Agency ‘Enabling Technologies Programme round 1’ symbolises the strong impact of our research in Physics, particularly in advancing early-stage technology development in the field of space science.

Advancing metal optics technology for space systems

This project aims to develop metal optics enabling higher performance and more compact instrument concepts for Earth Observation (EO) and for exploration missions.

The project will investigate the potential and benefits of four technologies for future CubeSat optical payloads.

Ion Beam Figuring (IBF): The project pioneers the use of IBF, a contactless polishing technique, to achieve nanometre form accuracy on metallic substrates. This breakthrough will widen the operational performance of metal mirrors to shorter wavelengths, expanding their application range.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) of metal AlSi40: The project explores the use of AM, also called 3D printing, to fabricate the housing for optical systems. By utilizing an aluminium-silicon alloy (AlSi40) for both the housing and the base body of the optics, the idea is to minimise thermal mismatch, reducing potential distortion effects that could compromise optical performance.

Freeform Optical Surfaces: The design and manufacturing of freeform optical surfaces (surfaces defined by irregular, non-symmetric geometries) are investigated to enhance the performance of CubeSat EO systems. This technology enables light weighting, reinforced structures, and lattices engineering, providing new possibilities for future optical payloads.

Speckle Angular Measurement (SAM): The project introduces a novel metrology technique called SAM, developed at Diamond Light Source. SAM will be tested on freeform surfaces, offering a precise and efficient alternative to existing 3D freeform metrology methods.

The researchers hope to revolutionise the manufacturing and performance of metallic mirror systems, opening new opportunities for the growing market in nano and small satellite applications.

This project, led by us in collaboration with Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Diamond Light Source (DLS), has been awarded £250,000 in funding.

Looking up image slicers optimum capabilities in the extreme ultraviolet for space (LUCES)

LUCES explores the application of the image slicer technology for the next generation of solar space missions in the Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV) regime.

The project will focus on the parameters that limit the two crucial requirements for solar integral field spectroscopy in the EUV: resolution and sensitivity.

It will evaluate the optimum capabilities of metallic image slicers producing slicer mirror array demonstrators with different widths and in different materials to evaluate the thinnest slicer mirrors that can be manufactured in metallic substrate using diamond machining and the material that offers the best surface roughness.

These developments will be applied to SISA (Spectral Imaging of the Solar Atmosphere), a highly efficient and compact integral field spectrograph (IFS) that will combine the surfaces of the Integral Field Unit (IFU) with those of the spectrograph as shown in the conceptual layout above.

SISA will be the first solar IFS in the Extreme Ultra-Violet and will provide the spectra of a 2D field of view simultaneously in one second, over two orders of magnitude faster than the existing EUV slit spectrographs.

It will observe the Sun in two spectral windows centred at 18nm and 25nm. These are the shortest wavelengths at which the image slicer technology has ever been proposed.

Enabling this technology opens a wide range of applications for astronomy and other science fields, such as Fusion and Plasma Physics.

LUCES, led by us in collaboration with University College London (UCL), has been awarded £190,000 in funding.

Find out more

Our Department of Physics is a thriving centre for research and education. Ranked 2nd in the UK by The Guardian University Guide 2023 and in the World Top 100 in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023, we are proud to deliver a teaching and learning experience for students which closely aligns with the research-intensive values and practices of the University.

Feeling inspired? Visit our Physics webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes.