Astronomy from Space

Course description Astronomy from Space
Year: 2015-2016
Catalog number: 4303ASFS3
  • Prof.dr. M. Fridlund
Language: English
Blackboard: No
EC: 3.0
Level: 400
Period: Semester 2
  • Yes Elective choice
  • Yes Contractonderwijs
  • Yes Exchange
  • Yes Study Abroad
  • No Evening course
  • Yes A la Carte
  • No Honours Class

Admission requirements



The course provides a general overview of space science from an astronomical perspective, so that students can access available space astronomy assets, know what is and how it will be available for scientific utilization, how the writing-of proposal-mechanism works regarding space missions, and know about the interaction with ground based instrumentation.

The course should also provide insight in how to participate in discussion, preparation and then implementation of a space project, given that you are part of the astronomical community (active participation in projects, preparation for proposing new space missions, etc.).

The course also describes the development of a space mission. It provides insight on how to focus your career into the field of space astronomy (including the ‘agency side’) from a scientific viewpoint.

The course uses the field of exoplanetology as the scientific ‘model’ that the description of space missions in general is based on. Stellar physics, particularly the topic of asteroseismology, which which is a new tool to stellar interiors, and retrieve the fundamental stellar parameters (e.g. mass, radius, age, etc.) with unprecedented precision is taught in detail. This technique can only be fully utilized in space and it will have a tremendous impact on essentially all aspects of astrophysics but especially in the field of exoplanetology. Therefore this topic is taught in detail. The relevant missions (e.g. CoRoT, Kepler, PLATO, Darwin, Terrestrial planet Finder, TPF) are described in detail.

The course consists of the following elements, not necessarily in this order:

  • Introduction
  • Why observe from space? The planet Earth environment (atmosphere including chemical composition, physical conditions, ionosphere, particle environment). Balloon astronomy, sounding rockets and launchers to deep space. Definition of a space project (scientific idea, scientific objectives, scientific requirements, general technical solution).
  • The orbital mechanics of binary stars, exoplanets and space craft is described. How do you determine exoplanetary parameters? What we know about stellar parameters today is almost exclusively from studies of binaries? What orbit does your spacecraft need vs what orbit can it achieve?
  • Astronomical objectives of IR and Submm space missions Specific IR and Submm satellite missions (e.g. IRAS, ISO, Spitzer, Herschel & Planck, JWST): Satellite design, instrument design and realised instrumentation, science topics, trends, future (interferometry).
  • Exoplanets from space. The scientific issues. Understanding the relation between star and planet – stellar physics vs planetary physics. Detection techniques from space. Asteroseismology. Habitable exoplanets. The future.
  • The building of a Space Astronomy Mission using exoplanetary missions as examples: The role and tasks of the scientist in assessment, technical implementation and scientific implementation. NOTE: these two last topics take up about 1/2 of the course.
  • A special seminar with discussion on the different ways of reaching space with your equipment/problem. The space agencies (ESA & NASA) are providing space access at the moment, but this will not always be so. The future is important in this course because a) The timeline for space projects is usually 10-20 years, and b) because it is going to be YOU who form the future and it will be what you make of it.
  • Available space resources and using them for your science. Preparing observing proposals. Handling data. Organisation of consortia.

Course objectives

  • The student should have a general overview of space science from an astronomical perspective. A general knowledge of the space oriented community (e.g. ESA and NASA) is given.
  • The student will also have been give examples of successful space missions (ISO, Herschel and Planck).
  • The student should be able to access available and coming space astronomy assets. The student should also know what is and will be available for scientific utilisation in the next 10-year period.
  • The student should have an understanding of the interplay between ground-based and space-based instruments.
  • After the course the student will have an understanding of the background and evolution of the scientific case for a space mission, and, how this scientific case is turned into specific instrumental requirements, and finally, how these can be implemented in the space environment.


See MSc schedules.

Mode of instruction

Lectures and exercises.

Assessment method

Written exam plus problems during course.



Reading list

Lecture notes made available after each lesson, papers from the literature handed out during lessons.


Via uSis
More information about signing up for your classes at the Faculty of Science can be found here

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Lecturer: Prof.dr. M. (Malcolm) Fridlund
Assistant: Cameron Mackie, MSc