A professor who has been the driving force in advancing space research and exploration at the University of Leicester for more than four decades has handed over the reins of the newly named Space Projects and Instrumentation Group.

Professor of Astrobiology and Space Instrumentation Mark Sims obtained both his BSc (1977) and PhD (1982) at the University, laying the foundation for a remarkable journey in space science.

Beginning with his work on data analysis from Ariel 5, particularly focusing on the bright X-ray transient A0620-00, his PhD research also involved pioneering a shadow-based wide-field-of-view camera for X-ray astronomy. His contributions extended to being a European Space Agency research fellow at ESTEC in the Netherlands from 1981 to 1984, working on missions such as EXOSAT, Kvant, MIR, and the SpaceLab 1 experiment 23 alongside development of new x-ray detector systems.

Returning to Leicester in 1984, Professor Sims took on key roles, including assembly integration and test manager for the ROSAT mission, mission manager for the Beagle 2 Mars lander project, and principal investigator of the Life Marker Chip (LMC) life detection instrument on the ExoMars rover. He also led the University team that qualified the National Space Centre’s education experiments for Tim Peake’s Principia mission. He has chaired and taken part in important committees, played pivotal roles in space missions, and led the academic team that designed Space Park Leicester.

Professor Richard Ambrosi, Executive Director of Space Park Leicester, said: “Professor Mark Sims has had a distinguished career at Leicester, marked by unwavering dedication, innovation, and a profound commitment to advancing space research. As the outgoing head of the SPI group (formerly the Space Research Centre), Mark’s legacy is deeply woven into the fabric of Space Park Leicester. His leadership and vision have played a pivotal role in shaping the centre into a leading hub for space exploration and research.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Mark for his tireless dedication to our mission.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr Adrian Martindale into this role and will continue to support him as he builds on the existing foundations.”

Former colleague and founding director of the Space Research Centre until 2002, Emeritus Professor Alan Wells said: “I congratulate Mark on the many successes in his long career, starting from 1977 when, as a new PhD student, he became part of the Leicester partnership with MIT in an ambitious but seemingly improbable mission to search for Gamma Ray Bursts with an X-ray telescope.

“NASA were not impressed at the time but many years later we built SWIFT and realised those ambitions from long ago. Later, of course, Beagle 2 was an astonishing technological feat that laid the foundations of UK and ESA commitments to advanced planetary lander technology.

“Mark’s indefatigable efforts were paramount and are rightly recognised as key contributions to the University’s enviable reputation in planetary research and astrobiology.”

Mark will continue to work at the University with a focus on new Earth Observation missions and instrumentation along with Mars Sample return and other missions.

Stepping into the role, Adrian, a Lecturer in Space Instrumentation, said: “I’m truly excited about my new role and am thankful to Mark Sims for his leadership and ongoing support during this transition. Mark has been a mentor and a source of inspiration throughout my career, and I look forward to building upon the foundation he has laid.

“Life as a researcher on fixed term funding has been a bit of a rollercoaster at times! But I am delighted now to lead the SPI group into the future from the strong foundations Mark has laid.

“I will reflect on how I can support my team through similar experiences as we plan for our bright future at Space Park Leicester. I am immensely grateful for their ongoing dedication and support.”

For more information about the Space Projects and Instrumentation Group visit: http://tinyurl.com/yc6kc9ep

For more information about Space Park Leicester visit: https://www.space-park.co.uk/