The Planetary Exploration group at TU Delft’s faculty of Aerospace Engineering is a leading research group in the exploration of the Solar System and the planets beyond.
Our research group is part of the section Astrodynamics & Space Missions of the Space Engineering department at the TU Delft Aerospace Engineering faculty. We are situated in a region bustling with space activities, not far from ESA’s technical centre ESTEC, various space industries and leading astronomical institutes at Leiden and SRON. This dynamic environment fosters our activities and involvement in various international planetary missions. Of particular interest to our group are sub-surface oceans of planetary moons and planetary ring systems; the new frontiers in planetary exploration. Furthermore, we are part of the Delft Space Institute, which showcases our work on JUICE, a mission to explore Jupiter and its moon Europa.
Our staff shares a common passion for the exploration of the solar system, and the worlds beyond. In addition, our group benefits from internationally acknowledged experts, thanks to the part-time appointment (in 2010) of Prof. Imke de Pater from Berkeley and (since 2016) a joined professorship of Prof. Bernhard Brandl at Leiden University to foster ties with the astronomy community.
Our Science Themes
Our science portfolio is broad and we focus on a variety of topics ranging from planetary atmospheres, planetary surface processes and materials, planet and moon interiors, to exoplanet detection and characterisation. We design and develop scientific instruments and trajectories for future space missions aimed at exploring the characteristics of other planets and moons in our solar system. In addition to upstream engineering topics, we also work on downstream applications such as scientific analyses of mission data obtained on various planetary bodies, including Io, Enceladus, Mars and Mercury.
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The surface materials and processes of objects in our Solar Systems, allow us to establish the history and evolution of these planetary bodies. We are targeting icy and rocky objects and investigate their properties by means of laboratory experiments, modelling, and through ground and space-based observations. – continue reading
Planets and moons experience rotation, tidal dissipation and deformation because of their uneven topography. We develop numerical models for these processes with analytical and finite element methods. Together with observations of their gravitational field and shape, the models can tell us about the structure of these bodies and their evolution. – continue reading
Exoplanet detection and characterisation
Since the first discovery of a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun (an “exoplanet”) in 1995, many thousands of exoplanets are now known to orbit stars in our Galaxy. One of the main challenges is seeing the signal from the exoplanet against the glare from its parent star. To do this we combine several techniques, such as polarimetry, adaptive optics and coronagraphs, to see the exoplanet and begin to characterise their atmospheres. – continue reading
Solar System Dynamics
Various techniques are used to measure the dynamics of planetary spacecraft and natural solar system bodies. Our focus is on creating novel analysis tools, tracking methods and data fusion techniques. The developments we make will allow current and future missions to provide improved estimates of geodetic parameters of planetary bodies, such as gravity field coefficients, rotational variations and tidal parameters, as well as natural satellite ephemerides. – continue reading