Facilities enabling our science programme

The STFC astronomy and space science programme is designed to contribute to the Science Roadmap questions, supporting the operation of facilities and development of new instrumentation for those facilities, and also the researchers who use them.  

STFC’s research programme includes studies ranging from the birth of the universe to the solar system we live in. It addresses observational programmes from the ground and space using wavelengths from gamma-ray to radio, plus the search for gravitational waves and understanding high energy phenomena. Observational studies are supported and complemented by theory research, computing and data handling resources, laboratory studies and technology development.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO)

On the ground, STFC manages the UK’s membership of the European Southern Observatory which provides access to the four 8m class optical/IR telescopes (VLT) in Chile and the associated optical interferometer (VLTI), the VISTA survey telescope, the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) smaller optical/IR telescopes at La Silla, the APEX sub-mm telescope and the new Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), now entering operation in the Atacama desert. 
ESO is about to commence construction of the world's largest optical/IR telescope facility known as the Extremely Large Telescope which will also be based in Chile. The ELT will boast a 39-metre primary mirror and be equipped with a suite of instruments capable of imaging the first objects formed in the universe and of imaging planets around other stars.  The UK, via the STFC is a full partner in this exciting project. 

STFC’s Island site observatories

The Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) consists of the William Herschel and Isaac Newton telescopes on the island of La Palma in the Spanish Canary Islands. The William Herschel Telescope is the largest optical telescope of its kind in Europe with a 4.2 metre primary mirror allowing observations from ultra-violet wavelengths to the infrared. The ING is operated under a tripartite arrangement on behalf of the UK (STFC is the managing agency for the ING), NWO in the Netherlands and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain.  We also contribute to the operational support of the Liverpool Telescope, a 2-metre robotic facility on La Palma. 

Radio observatories

The highest priority future radio astronomy project is the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.  STFC represents the UK as a member of the SKA Organisation and is playing a leading role in the technical and policy development of the project.  The SKA will build upon a UK strength in radio astronomy focused upon development of e-MERLIN at operated from Jodrell Bank Observatory, and via a UK node for LOFAR at the Chilbolton Observatory site, both with operational support from STFC.

Space science facilities and research

The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has responsibility for the development and delivery of the space science programme in the UK, primarily in supporting the development of instrumentation and participation in a range of space missions, for example Herschel and Planck, now in operation in space, through to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and preparation for the next generation of missions in ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme.
STFC works closely with UKSA to develop agreed science priorities with the UK Space Agency.  We also support the development of novel technologies associated with generic space research, primarily via grants to Universities and research institutions. Grant funding for research exploitation and blue skies technology related to both ground and space-based astronomy continue to be awarded by STFC, but outcomes are agreed with the UK Space Agency under a 'dual key' mechanism.

Technology and instrumentation

STFC operates one of the largest space research laboratories in Europe at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL Space) which coordinates the design, development, construction and testing of many space instruments as well as providing operational instrument control facilities and receiving, processing and making available data to the research community.  RAL Space research activities include meteorology, earth observation, atmospheric science, solar and solar-terrestrial physics, planetary science, and radio communications
The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC) is the national centre for astronomical technology designing and building instruments for many of the world's major telescopes. In addition to leading the development of the JWST-MIRI instrument, STFC is particularly focused on the construction of instruments for ESO. This includes the KMOS instrument recently delivered to Chile, a variety of contracts for ALMA sub-systems and work towards the first and later generation instruments for the ELT.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000