Budding science graduates who dream of reaching for the stars can count their lucky ones, because space-science courses are experiencing a big bang here in the UK.
Katarina Miljkovic, 25, graduated with degree in astrophysics from the University of Belgrade, in Serbia. Since June she has been studying for a PhD in experimental physics at the Centre of Earth, Planetary and Space Research at the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes. "I couldn't find any satisfactory studies in Belgrade so I started searching for an overseas studentship," Miljkovic explains. "I liked what the Open University do and how they do it. Besides my research they are training me to be a good space scientist."
With its contributions to robotic missions for Nasa and the European Space Agency, the OU's centre has built up a credible international reputation for space science and entices research students with its work in planetary research and astrophysics. It and a number of other universities have seen a significant rise in students taking space-related studies.
Although the number of astrophysics students in PhD places is small, unlike other sciences the number is growing. According to Steve Cann, the education and training officer at the Particle Physics and Astrophysics Research Centre (PPARC), there has been a 5 per cent increase in the number of PPARC PhDs in the field of astronomy over the last five years (up from 102 awards to the October 2007 level of 160 awards).
"The PPARC's policy has been to increase the number of PhD studentships it supports and it has 100 per cent take up of its PhD studentships on offer," he says. Although it may seem a long way away, benefits from the space sector are felt at home. The Government has realised the importance of space for the UK economy : the sector contributes [pound]7bn annually to GDP and supports 70,000 jobs in the UK.
"Space is a very interesting topic," Miljkovic says. "There is always something new going on, and the job is absolutely fantastic. No boring schedules but projects, teamwork, brainstorming, solving problems nobody solved before, and so on. Science is exciting.
"I am part of the OU team that is suggesting new instrument technology for dust detection for future ESA and Nasa missions to Jupiter's moon Europa. …