Rutherford Appleton Laboratory


RAL Space

RAL Space carry out world-class science research and technology development with significant involvement in more than 210 instruments on missions to date.

As an integral part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), RAL Space is the space hub for UK Research and Innovation.

We particularly support the programmes of STFC, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as well as the implementation of the UK Space Strategy.

We work with UK and overseas agencies, universities and businesses on space and ground-based space projects. Our unique position between industry and academia enables us to strengthen the UK space community. We do this through:

  • scientific research
  • technology development
  • providing cutting edge facilities
  • strategic advice to external partners.

RAL Space has over 60 years of experience and expertise in space programmes. Our experts work throughout the lifecycle of space missions:

  • leading concept studies for future missions
  • developing bespoke innovative scientific instrumentation
  • providing space test and ground-based facilities
  • operating ground-stations
  • processing and analysing data.

Find out more about RAL Space.


Data management

RAL Space has considerable experience in the processing, analysis, and provision of scientific data. We are often involved in the early-stage processing of data from space instruments that we have built.

We also produce multi-year global satellite data sets on atmospheric constituents for climate research. RAL Space run long term data archives, managed by the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA), for the environmental science community.

We work closely with scientists who are gathering data to ensure that those data are described in an unambiguous manner and properly archived so they can be used in decades to come.

Earth observation

RAL Space contribute to and underpin UK and international programmes in environmental science by providing research expertise, services and facilities. We have expertise in remote sensing models, calibration activities, and characterising spectral properties of environmental components.

Making observations of the land, sea and air from space allows scientists to monitor our environment, improve their models and so better understand our planet.

Space instruments we have been involved in provide continuous global measurements over many years to give information on both immediate and longer-term changes in the environment.

Space debris and satellite tracking

With an ever-increasing number of satellite launches, including the advent of mega-constellations, there is an important requirement to track and manage objects in orbit around the Earth.

This applies especially to low Earth orbit (300-2,000km) which is the most congested region, but as far out as geosynchronous orbit at 36,000km which is used by many communications satellites.

RAL Space uses optical and radar systems to track active satellites and space debris objects as well as providing data to support the modelling of space weather processes which affect satellite orbits.

Solar physics and the near-Earth environment

RAL Space has a long heritage of solar space mission involvement mainly through the development and operation of spectroscopic instrumentation in the extreme-UV and X-ray wavelengths, but also in coronal and heliospheric imaging.

We develop ground and space-based instrumentation to study the near-Earth environment from the heliosphere to the Earth’s ionosphere.

We use observations of the solar atmosphere and solar wind to determine the Sun’s plasma characteristics and track huge mass eruptions all the way from the Sun’s corona to beyond the Earth’s orbit.

Our research in space weather is helping to understand and forecast the impacts of solar activity at the Earth.

Planetary science

RAL Space has a strong instrument programme, including missions to all the inner Solar System planets, the Moon, as well as comets and the Saturnian system.

This includes remote sensing instruments aboard orbiters as well as instruments aboard rovers. This scientific area runs in parallel with our involvement on space missions that study exoplanets in other stellar systems.

These missions continue to yield a wealth of science and help us to understand the Earth and the solar system as well as the planetary systems of other stars.


RAL Space supports astronomers around the world using instruments in space and on the ground, with a wide range of expertise in design, building, testing and calibration.

We also carry out leading astronomical research using data from these and other instruments to further our understanding of the universe, galaxies and the formation of stars and planets.

RAL Space is at the heart of the UK’s infrared to microwave astronomy programme. We are involved in the James Webb Space Telescope and also lead the technical team for the Ariel space mission to characterise planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.

At longer radio wavelengths we are involved in the operation and development of the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope, and the Square Kilometre Array Observatory, which when operational, will be the largest scientific facility in the history of humankind.


RAL Space operate facilities on behalf of the space and environmental science communities for both academic and commercial use, including:

Assembly, integration and test

RAL Space operate a range of test facilities and clean room space for the development, assembly and testing of space bound hardware. These facilities help get spacecraft and space components ready for launch and raise confidence in satellite performance.

We offer thermal vacuum, vibration and pyroshock testing capabilities for small to medium sized components, payloads and spacecraft.

The National Satellite Test Facility, offers thermal vacuum, dynamics, electromagnetic compatibility, and antenna measurement testing for spacecraft of up to seven tonnes.

Centre for Environmental Data Analysis

Data and analysis procedures within environmental science are continually getting bigger, in both complexity and storage.

The Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) offers a national capability for the environmental science community to share, process and archive environmental data all in one place.

CEDA services are provided on behalf of NERC via the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the National Centre for Earth Observation. CEDA is based within the RAL Space. JASMIN is co-managed by CEDA and STFC’s Scientific Computing Department.

Find out more about CEDA.

Chilbolton Observatory

Chilbolton Observatory offers a unique combination of facilities and expertise in atmospheric science, satellite tracking, radio astronomy and communications to support UK academia and industry.

Find out more about the Chilbolton Observatory.


RAL Space technology is used to help to monitor and understand the health and processes of the Earth as well as helping to explore our solar system and the universe beyond.

We offer expertise in electronics and imaging systems, millimetre wave technology, spectroscopy and radiometry including calibration services. Our work is supported by technical and manufacturing capabilities including precision manufacturing for millimetre wave technology and multilayer insulation.

Our technology development and delivery is underpinned by capabilities in mechanical systems and thermal engineering.


We are based at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire.

RAL Space
Science and Technology Facilities Council
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Harwell Campus
OX11 0QX

Telephone: 01235 445 620

We also operate the Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire.

Chilbolton Observatory
Science and Technology Facilities Council
SO20 6BJ

Telephone: 01264 860 391

Last updated: 26 July 2022

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