PhD Project: Space-based solutions for improved space sustainability

  • West Midlands, All EnglandWest Midlands, All England


125th Anniversary Scholarship in the School of Metallurgy & Materials

PhD Project: Space-based solutions for improved space sustainability

This PhD project will be based in the School of Metallurgy and Materials which is part of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

About the project

We seek an enthusiastic and capable individual to join our team as a PhD researcher in the field of space-based solutions for a sustainable space future. The successful candidate will work with multi-disciplinary researchers based in the Colleges of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Life and Environmental Sciences, working on novel space-based approaches and methods to maintain a sustainable space environment.

Our 125th anniversary scholar will:

  • Investigate space-based sensor technologies for detecting space objects at sizes and in locations that cannot currently be accessed via ground-based technologies.
  • Investigate low-cost techniques for accelerating de-orbit of space objects in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) space and develop a novel end-of-life technology demonstrator for the enhancement of drag effects on LEOsats.
  • Investigate data-sharing and open-source instrument development with those who may not have resources to develop their own satellites or access space data.

The LEO space environment is more crowded than ever before, with mega-constellations of commercially owned satellites (Starlink and OneWeb) comprising a large proportion of operational LEOsats providing services including Earth observation, climate monitoring, and communications. However, a large proportion of LEO residents are classed as debris and include rocket bodies, defunct satellites, and fragments of destroyed satellites. Current international guidelines state that all satellites must be removed from the LEO protected region within 25 years of end of mission, through deorbit or transfer to a graveyard orbit. Whilst this is undoubtedly a positive step, it will only limit the growth of space debris, not actively reduce it. Therefore, reliable and inexpensive methods of identifying and deorbiting space debris within a short timeframe are needed, in order to maintain the safety and accessibility of LEO orbits.

You will focus on two aspects of the LEOspace sustainability problem: space-based sensor technologies for detecting and monitoring space objects, and low-cost techniques for accelerating LEOsat de-orbit. Current techniques for surveillance and tracking of space objects are reliant on large, ground-based infrastructure, and are limited in the size range and viewing aspect of their detection capabilities. You will explore novel space-based sensor techniques for detecting space objects. Likewise, myriad de-orbit techniques have been suggested, developed, and tested; many of them have never gone beyond the technology demonstration stage as they are unfeasible to integrate onto satellites before they leave the ground, or are too costly to scale up. You will explore novel drag enhancement systems for de-orbiting end-of-life satellites. These offer a highly promising solution to space debris, utilising the small amount of atmospheric drag found in LEO. Finally, you will investigate integration of the developed sensor datasets into existing publicly accessible space data sets, the provision of drag acceleration hardware designs, and the development of training materials for users outside the global North. This will be facilitated by Prof. Pope’s network of contacts in the global South.

Entry Requirements

Applicants need to have a good Honours degree (First Class or an Upper Second Class) in a subject with a mathematical grounding. This includes, but is not restricted to: physics, any flavour of engineering, environmental sciences, and computer science. Experience with programming is desirable (Python, MATLAB, R). Applicants should have excellent oral and written communication skills and strong problem-solving abilities. You may also have experience of presenting or preparing scientific manuscripts or presentations for journals or conferences, but this is not required.

Who can apply?

These scholarships are designed to create opportunities and address the underrepresentation of talented Black or Black mixed heritage students in academia. Applicants who meet all of the following criteria are eligible to apply:

1. UK nationals and eligible for registration as Home students

2. Members of one of the following ethnic groups:

  • Black African
  • Black Caribbean
  • Black Other
  • Mixed – White and Black Caribbean
  • Mixed – White and Black African
  • Other mixed background (to include Black African, Black Caribbean or Black Other)

3. Not already enrolled on a PhD programme at the University of Birmingham

What does the scholarship provide?

1. Financial Support: Recipients of these scholarships will receive substantial financial support, including a stipend at UKRI rates, which is set at £18,622 per year. This support covers tuition fees, living expenses, and research-related costs, including bench fees. This support is designed to alleviate the financial burden often associated with pursuing a doctoral degree.

2. Mentorship and Guidance: Scholarship recipients will benefit from mentorship opportunities and guidance from accomplished faculty members who are dedicated to helping them succeed in their academic and research endeavours.

3. Research Opportunities: We are committed to providing an exceptional research environment. Students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge resources, and a vibrant scholarly community.

4. Community Building: A key component of the scholarship programme is the creation of a supportive community of Black British researchers pursuing PhDs. This network will foster collaboration and peer support among scholars.

5. Research Training Support Grant: In addition to financial support, scholarship recipients will receive a research training support grant. This grant is intended to support conference attendance, fieldwork, and other essential activities that enhance their research and academic growth.

6. Commitment to Inclusivity: We are dedicated to building an inclusive academic environment that values diversity and ensures equitable access to education.

Contact the lead supervisor

Once applicants have familiarised themselves with the above project details, they are encouraged to contact the lead PhD supervisor to discuss the project and the applicant’s suitability for the project. This is recommended before you submit an application to the PhD project.

Dr Alconcel’s expertise is in sensor and payload instrument development for space environment monitoring and ground-based applications.[1-3] She works on the full life cycle of space missions, from concept and design through to end-of-life. Leah is the College Race Equality Lead and has extensive experience of advocacy and strategic direction of initiatives to support underrepresented groups in UK and other national contexts.

Dr Pope’s expertise is around sensor systems for particle detection. The Pope group combines sensor with source apportionment techniques including AI to understand the importance of different sources for indoor and outdoor environments.


How to apply

After applicants have made contact with the lead PhD supervisor, you will then need to apply to the PhD project using our online application portal: you should select ‘125th Anniversary Scholarships (EPS)‘. You will need to create an account for the online application portal and you will be prompted to sign-in upon your return to the portal.

You do not need to complete your application in one session; you can save your application at each stage and return to the portal at any stage before submission, particularly if you do not have all of the necessary documents when you begin your application.

As this is an ‘advertised PhD’, in which you will studying the above project that has already been provided by the academic supervisor(s), you do not need to submit a research proposal. Your personal statement will suffice for determining your suitability for the PhD project as well as your previous academic, professional and personal experiences.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

For your application you will need to submit the following documents:

  • Personal Statement
  • References
  • Academic certificate and transcript(s) for all prior degrees
  • Sample Work


Who is eligible to apply?

Please visit website for details

University of Birmingham Campus

Where is University of Birmingham?