Netherlands Institute for Space Research

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SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research
Ruimteonderzoeksinstituut SRON
Netherlands Institute for Space Research logo.png
Headquarters Utrecht
Michael Wise (Scientific Director)
SRON, Utrecht, Netherlands Stichting Ruimte Onderzoek Nederland.jpg
SRON, Utrecht, Netherlands

SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research is the Dutch expertise institute for space research. The Institute develops and uses innovative technology for research in space, focusing on astrophysical research, Earth science and planetary research. SRON has a line of research into new and more sensitive sensors for X-rays and infrared radiation.


SRON was founded in 1983 under the former names Stichting Ruimteonderzoek Nederland / Space Research Organisation Netherlands. SRON is part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and has facilities in Utrecht and in Groningen.

Utrecht City and municipality in the province of Utrecht, Netherlands

Utrecht is the fourth-largest city and a municipality of the Netherlands, capital and most populous city of the province of Utrecht. It is located in the eastern corner of the Randstad conurbation, and in the very centre of mainland Netherlands, and had a population of 345,080 in 2017.

Groningen City and municipality in Netherlands

Groningen is the main municipality as well as the capital city of the eponymous province in the Netherlands. It is the largest city in the north of the Netherlands and has approximately 230,000 inhabitants. The Groningen-Assen metropolitan area has about half a milion inhabitants. Groningen is an old city and was the regional power of the north of the Netherlands, a semi-independent city-state and member of the German Hanseatic League. Groningen is a university city, with an estimated 31,000 students at the University of Groningen, and an estimated 29,000 at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences.

Science and technology

The institute has over 250 staff who are employed at a support department and five divisions: High-Energy Astrophysics (HEA), Low-Energy Astrophysics (LEA), Earth and Planetary Science (EPS), Sensor Research and Technology (SR&T) and Engineering Division (ED).


SRON’s ambition is to act as leading institute in the development of state-of-the-art satellite instruments for space research missions of ESA, NASA and other agencies. Through the years SRON technology has contributed to many ground-breaking space missions, mainly dedicated to mapping the infrared sky (e.g. IRAS, ISO, HIFI/Herschel), analyzing X-ray and gamma ray sources (e.g. CGRO/COMPTEL, Beppo-SAX, Chandra, XMM-Newton) and studying the Earth atmosphere (SCIAMACHY/ENVISAT). Examples of future missions to which SRON will contribute are SPICA (infrared), ASTRO-H (X-ray) and Sentinel 5 Precursor (Earth atmosphere). The institute is also planning contributions to missions which will study other planets in the Solar System and beyond.

NASA space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

Solar System planetary system of the Sun

The Solar System is the gravitationally bound planetary system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it, either directly or indirectly. Of the objects that orbit the Sun directly, the largest are the eight planets, with the remainder being smaller objects, such as the five dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies. Of the objects that orbit the Sun indirectly—the moons—two are larger than the smallest planet, Mercury.

Missions and projects

Current missions or projects with SRON contribution

The Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (ATHENA) is a future X-ray telescope of the European Space Agency, under development for launch around 2031. It is the second (L2) large class mission within ESA Cosmic Vision Program. ATHENA will be one hundred times more sensitive than the best of existing X-ray telescopes—the Chandra X-ray Observatory and XMM-Newton.

Chandra X-ray Observatory space observatory

The Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO), previously known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), is a Flagship-class space telescope launched on STS-93 by NASA on July 23, 1999. Chandra is sensitive to X-ray sources 100 times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope, enabled by the high angular resolution of its mirrors. Since the Earth's atmosphere absorbs the vast majority of X-rays, they are not detectable from Earth-based telescopes; therefore space-based telescopes are required to make these observations. Chandra is an Earth satellite in a 64-hour orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2019.

XMM-Newton Cornerstone 2 mission of the Horizon 2000 programme; X-ray space telescope for various applications

XMM-Newton, also known as the High Throughput X-ray Spectroscopy Mission and the X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission, is an X-ray space observatory launched by the European Space Agency in December 1999 on an Ariane 5 rocket. It is the second cornerstone mission of ESA's Horizon 2000 programme. Named after physicist and astronomer Sir Isaac Newton, the spacecraft is tasked with investigating interstellar X-ray sources, performing narrow- and broad-range spectroscopy, and performing the first simultaneous imaging of objects in both X-ray and optical wavelengths.

Previous missions/projects

BeppoSAX Italian-Dutch satellite used for X-ray astronomy

BeppoSAX was an Italian–Dutch satellite for X-ray astronomy which played a crucial role in resolving the origin of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the most energetic events known in the universe. It was the first X-ray mission capable of simultaneously observing targets over more than 3 decades of energy, from 0.1 to 300 kiloelectronvolts (keV) with relatively large area, good energy resolution and imaging capabilities. BeppoSAX was a major programme of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) with the participation of the Netherlands Agency for Aerospace Programmes (NIVR). The prime contractor for the space segment was Alenia while Nuova Telespazio led the development of the ground segment. Most of the scientific instruments were developed by the Italian National Research Council (CNR) while the Wide Field Cameras were developed by the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) and the LECS was developed by the astrophysics division of the European Space Agency's ESTEC facility.

Compton Gamma Ray Observatory space observatory

The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) was a space observatory detecting photons with energies from 20 keV to 30 GeV, in Earth orbit from 1991 to 2000. It featured four main telescopes in one spacecraft, covering X-rays and gamma rays, including various specialized sub-instruments and detectors. Following 14 years of effort, the observatory was launched from Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-37 on April 5, 1991, and operated until its deorbit on June 4, 2000. It was deployed in low earth orbit at 450 km (280 mi) to avoid the Van Allen radiation belt. It was the heaviest astrophysical payload ever flown at that time at 17,000 kilograms (37,000 lb).

<i>Hitomi</i> (satellite) X-ray astronomy satellite launched on 17 February 2016

Hitomi, also known as ASTRO-H and New X-ray Telescope (NeXT), was an X-ray astronomy satellite commissioned by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for studying extremely energetic processes in the Universe. The space observatory was designed to extend the research conducted by the Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics (ASCA) by investigating the hard X-ray band above 10 keV. The satellite was originally called New X-ray Telescope; at the time of launch it was called ASTRO-H. After it was placed in orbit and its solar panels deployed, it was renamed Hitomi. The new name refers to the pupil of an eye, and to a legend of a painting of four dragons, two of which were given eyes and flew into the sky, and two that were left eyeless and stayed as motionless art. The spacecraft was launched on 17 February 2016 and contact was lost on 26 March 2016, due to multiple incidents with the attitude control system leading to an uncontrolled spin rate and breakup of structurally weak elements.

Technology development

Optical photograph of a bolometer for SAFARI (detail); the shiny square is the superconducting TES thermometer, the large grey square is the Ta absorber. The ring-type structure is the SiN suspension, intended to produce a very weak coupling to the heat bath and thus a sensitive detector. Srt Image15.jpg
Optical photograph of a bolometer for SAFARI (detail); the shiny square is the superconducting TES thermometer, the large grey square is the Ta absorber. The ring-type structure is the SiN suspension, intended to produce a very weak coupling to the heat bath and thus a sensitive detector.

In various wavelength areas SRON’s sensors are already some of the most sensitive in the world. However, SRON is continuously looking for new ways to deploy even more sensitive sensors for the improved detection of cosmic radiation or for measurements of the atmosphere of the Earth and other planets. This requires long-term investments in the development of new sensors, electronics and specialist techniques. In the near future detectors shall increasingly take the shape of large chips with many megapixels, with a unique combination of two dimensional pictures and spectroscopy color resolving power.

These detectors require the development of new advanced electronics, smart control software, extreme cooling techniques and novel materials. SRON develops a new generation of detectors, and the necessary read-out and control electronics, for international missions in the submillimeter and far-infrared areas. For example, such extremely sensitive detectors are needed in SPICA/ SAFARI so that we can learn more about protoplanetary discs and the formation of planets. For SPICA/ SAFARI SRON is currently working on Transition Edge Sensors (TES).

National and international partners

Customers are on the one hand the international organizations with which SRON cooperates in bilateral, European or global projects. On the other hand, there is science as the customer: scientists from the Universities in Utrecht, Groningen and Leiden, and outside the Dutch borders for example with DLR.


Johannes Alphonsus Marie "Johan" Bleeker is a Dutch space technology scientist. He was director of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research from 1983 to 2003. He was involved in the setting up of the Horizon 2000 and Horizon 2000+ projects of the European Space Agency.

See also

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Gamma-ray Burst Coordinates Network system that distributes information about the location of a gamma-ray burst (GRB), when a burst is detected by various spacecraft

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SCIAMACHY spectrometer instrument on board the European Space Agency (ESA)s Envisat satellite

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The SAFARI imaging spectrometer is the European ‘nerve center’ of Japanese infrared telescope SPICA and is being developed under the leadership of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research. SAFARI is an infrared camera with about 6,000 pixels that can make real ‘photos’ of the sky in three adjacent wavelength areas. Using a Fourier transform spectroscopy (FTS) detailed spectral information is obtained, allowing astronomers to determine the chemical composition of the observed celestial sources. TNO is developing the mechanism of this FTS.

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  1. "Johan Bleeker (1942): Pionier en koersbepaler van het ruimteonderzoek" (in Dutch). Netherlands Institute for Space Research. Retrieved 26 June 2016.[ dead link ]
  2. 1 2 "Algemeen directeur Karel Wakker verlaat SRON" (in Dutch). Netherlands Institute for Space Research. 30 January 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  3. "New directorate at space research institute SRON". Netherlands Institute for Space Research. 21 June 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2016.