Daniel Lobb obituary

Other lives: Designer of optical instruments for spacecraft

My brother Dan Lobb, who has died aged 80, was a designer of optical instruments for spacecraft, working at the Scientific Instrument Research Association (Sira) in Chislehurst, Kent, from the 1960s onwards.

Early on in his career, he became a designer of laser projector-based flight simulators, and spent a year in the US working at the Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington. Then, in the 80s Sira began developing optical instruments for space satellites, mainly for the European Space Agency (ESA). As an inventor of uniquely clever designs, a driver of computer analyses to optimise the shapes of the lenses and mirrors, and a very good physicist and mathematician, Dan was central to the work.

One of his designs, CHRIS (Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) was intended only as a demonstration model for a one-year mission launched on an experimental satellite in 2001, but is still flying today, providing research data for environmental scientists worldwide.

In the last three decades, Dan became the pre-eminent designer of imaging spectrometers, which enable the measurement of environmental properties such as crop health, water quality and atmospheric pollution.

Born in Ilford, east London, five months before the outbreak of the second world war, Dan was one of four sons of Mary (nee Davey), a skilled potter, and Richard Lobb, an insurance clerk who enjoyed painting. Fearing the arrival of enemy bombs, the family moved out to Bookham and then Fetcham in Surrey.

Dan went to Dorking grammar school and then to Imperial College London to study physics. He did well and went on to a postgraduate year for a diploma in optics, before his career began, in 1962, at Sira. There he met Pat Openshaw, who worked at Sira as a librarian. They married in 1968 and settled nearby. Dan shone at Sira: in optics, he had discovered his true metier.

After Sira closed down in 2006, its space team joined Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL), a company specialising in small, inexpensive satellites built quickly, often for developing countries. Dan’s inventive designs enabled the company to develop instruments that rivalled the performance of those from larger competitors.

His work for the ESA’s environmental monitoring programmes included imaging spectrometers for the mapping of atmospheric pollution (Sentinel-5 Precursor) and photosynthesis in vegetation (Flex). A recent major achievement was his design of a complex field splitter for Nasa’s flagship astronomy satellite the James Webb Space Telescope – comprising 97 mirrors in an instrument the size of a hand.

In 2012, Dan received a Royal Aeronautical Society award for specialist contributions in aerospace.

Dan, a big man both physically and intellectually, with a lovely sense of humour, was dedicated to his family. He is survived by Pat, their children, Jane, Toby and Andrew, and by his brothers, James, Andrew and me.

Stephen Lobb

The GuardianTramp

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