PhD Studentship, School of Engineering

Southampton, United Kingdom
£15,609 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years
03 Jan 2022
End of advertisement period
31 Jan 2022
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

School of Engineering

Location:  Highfield Campus
Closing Date:  Monday 31 January 2022
Reference:  1591821DA

Supervisory Team:    Dr Charlie Ryan, Dr Alex Wittig

Project description

Electric propulsion (EP) continues to revolutionise space travel, extending the capabilities and lifetime of spacecraft and satellites through the propellant mass saving it offers. Their intrinsic higher exhaust velocity compared to that of chemical propulsion enables new spacecraft missions, including large orbital changes for satellite mega-constellations, space tugs to reinvigorate defunct satellites, or interplanetary missions such as ESA's Bepi-Colombo mission, or NASA's Dawn and Psyche missions. The vast majority of EP concepts presently employed operate using noble gases as the propellant, predominantly xenon. While xenon does offer the advantages of a low first ionisation energy, nonreactivity, and superior performance (at least among the noble gases), it is expensive, requires complex high pressure propellant storage and delivery subsystems, and must be sourced from the Earth. We propose to demonstrate the feasibility of EP thruster operation on propellants that can be sourced from interplanetary bodies near Earth. 

The studentship will develop, manufacture and qualify EP thrusters that operate on propellants from in-situ lunar resources and Near Earth Asteroids. Specifically we will demonstrate EP thruster operation on oxygen, and metals such as iron and magnesium. The ability to operate EP thrusters on in-situ elements removes the requirement to obtain all electric propulsion propellant from the Earth, facilitating a key driver to support sustainable space exploration. We anticipate that performance measurements will demonstrate that the thrust and exhaust velocity of these in-situ propellants are not only comparable to, but in some cases even higher than that of conventional noble gas propellants, enabling missions with larger required changes in velocity. 

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr Charlie Ryan, Astronautics Research Group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 3881.

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent).

Closing date: applications should be received no later than 31 December 2021 for standard admissions, but later applications may be considered depending on the funds remaining in place.

Funding: For UK students, Tuition Fees and a stipend of £15,609 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years. 

How To Apply

Applications should be made online. Select programme type (Research), 2022/23, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, next page select “PhD  Engineering & Environment (Full time)”. In Section 2 of the application form you should insert the name of the supervisor  Charlie Ryan 

Applications should include

  • Research Proposal
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Two reference letters
  • Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online:

For further information please contact:

The School of Engineering is committed to promoting equality, diversity inclusivity as demonstrated by our Athena SWAN award. We welcome all applicants regardless of their gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or age, and will give full consideration to applicants seeking flexible working patterns and those who have taken a career break. The University has a generous maternity policy, onsite childcare facilities, and offers a range of benefits to help ensure employees’ well-being and work-life balance. The University of Southampton is committed to sustainability and has been awarded the Platinum EcoAward.

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