Ed Polehampton
15 Jun 2022



Instrument Calibration Scientist in the Earth Observation and Atmospheric Science Division


​Ed Polehampton, instrument calibration scientist.


What is your current role and why is it important to RAL Space?

I'm an instrument calibration scientist in RAL Space's radiometry group, which is part of the Earth Observation and Atmospheric Science division. I work on algorithms and data analysis for space instruments, supporting missions from design through to operations. We're aiming to understand the instrument operation and calibrate the measurements from the instruments before launch and then make sure they're working properly after the launch. It's important to understand how an instrument works before its launch because you can't touch it again afterwards. It also ensures that the data it's going to measure is fit for purpose, especially for climate data measuring the surface temperature of the Earth, as we need to minimise the uncertainties and make sure it's accurate over long time scales.

How did you get into your current role?

I did a PhD jointly between RAL Space and Oxford University Astrophysics department, working on the Infrared Space Observatory's Long Wavelength Spectrometer (LWS) instrument, which was built and tested at RAL Space. I worked partly on interpreting the data and partly on understanding the instrument and calibrating it. Then I went to Germany to do a postdoc on ground-based astronomical telescopes, and I came back to RAL Space after that to work with my PhD supervisor on the Herschel Space Observatory. Finally, I moved to the Radiometry group to work on Earth observation instruments. The common thread has been different types of infrared instruments.

What projects are you currently working on?

I'm working on two main projects at the moment. One is the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR) for Sentinel-3. There are currently two satellites in orbit which we monitor, problem solve and maintain the calibration for, all from the ground. We also have the Sentinel-3 C and D satellites, which haven't been launched yet, but we're about to start testing one of those in the lab next month. And the second project is a future mission focused on land surface temperature which is still at the design stage. I'm designing algorithms to process and calibrate the data.

What projects have you worked on during your time at RAL Space?

I worked on Herschel Space Observatory for 10 years. Right from the ground testing through to the commissioning and final operations, and working on the preparations and observing modes. It was exciting to have worked on it from before launch and see it in the enormous clean room and then supporting the astronomers who used it. ​

What is the best thing about your job?

The projects I'm working on usually involve large teams across different institutes in the UK and abroad. Currently, I'm having regular online meetings with people in France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. In the past, for Herschel, we were working closely with Canadians and others widely spread across the world. ​

I think the best thing about my job is solving problems and working with interesting people around the world. There's the opportunity to be a part of a team, sometimes a large team, to achieve something really cool and to make exciting things happen.