Part IV Projects – BE(Hons)

Click on the + symbol to see more details about each of the available projects

Design of deployable surfaces for small satellites. (Prof G Aglietti)

The progress in the area of electronic hardware has allowed a significant reduction in the size of satellites, and there has been an incredible growth in the nanosatellite market, e.g. cubesats. However, power requirements have not diminished at the same rate and so, small/nano satellites often need to deploy solar arrays in order to collect sufficient solar energy. In addition, the size of other equipment, such as mirrors, lenses, or antennas, is related to physical parameters, and cannot be reduced significantly without a decrease in performance. All this has generated increasing interest in satellite deployable structurers (and deployable surfaces in particular), as a means to stow a large item into a compact volume for launch and then deploy/unfold it to the required size and configuration for its in-orbit operations.

The purpose of this project is to carry out a review of the current technologies utilized for surface deployment on board satellites and identify a particular application to be developed. Various concepts will be assessed, and a preliminary design of a novel system will be produced and analysed. It is expected that besides research, design and computational work, the students will also have to produce physical model(s) (e.g. 3D printed) as proof of concept of the mechanism.

Please email Prog Guglielmo Aglietti ( for more information

University of Auckland Satellite Tracking System (Dr. John Cater and Dr. Nicholas Rattenbury)

The Universty of Auckland runs an experimental satellite tracking station on the roof of building 303. This system comprises both UHF and VHF antennas. The system is remotely accessible and uses both open hard- and software.

This project will require the student team to upgrade the existing software stack to include the following functionalities:

  • Decoding amateur satellite transmissions using supplied decoding software and
  • Developing WELL DOCUMENTED and WELL COMMENTED end user interface software

Stretch goals

  • Automating the ground station to track satellites
  • Adapting the ground station to submit data to the SATNOGS network of world-wide ground stations.

Please email Dr. John Cater ( or Dr. Nick Rattenbury ( for more info.

Development of novel bi-stable grasper for space debris capture (Dr. Ben Taylor)


Net and harpoon systems are proposed solutions for space debris capture. Both are however ‘one-shot’ and do not allow for resetting of the system in the event of a failed capture. This project seeks to investigate a resettable capture mechanism using deployed bi-stable tape springs. When impacting upon a target the springs should undergo a rapid transition to wrap around the target object. Students will consider impact dynamics to determine the feasibility and scaling of a system for a range of target debris objects, building and demonstrating a small-scale proof of concept resettable mechanism.


Literature review of existing debris capture technologies

Identification of key mechanism constraints and parameters

Analysis of impact dynamics

Proof of concept demonstrator and test


  • Mechanical Engineering

Please email Dr. Ben Taylor ( for more information

Development of a device for the identification of the centre of gravity (Dr. Frank May)


It is crucial for successful space missions to identify the mass properties of all payloads exactly. The exact knowledge of the center of gravity (CoG) is also needed for vibration testing of the space structure, which will be performed in the Environmental Test Facilities of the Auckland Space Institute. Commercial CoG measurement systems are very expensive and on the other hand the development of such a device is an attractive and suitable task for a student project. The task is to review available literature, to study different concepts and to develop a design for a device considering the requirement that the CoG should be measured to an accuracy of +- 1.5 mm. An important consideration is, how the device can be calibrated. Dependent on the progress and capacities in the workshop it may be also possible to test a prototype at the end of the project.


Concept and design of the measurement device including actuator and sensor.

Development of the control software for measurement and analysis.

Realization at least as a prototype and proof of concept.


  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechatronics Engineering

Please email Dr. Frank May ( for more info

Optimal design of space constellations’ configuration (Prof Roberto Armellin)


Constellations of thousands of satellites are the new trend in space missions. These constellations are designed mainly for telecommunication or remote sensing purposes. In this project, we will review the typical mission requirements for these constellations and develop a software tool for the optimal selection of the key mission parameters such as orbit altitude, inclination and eccentricity; the number of orbital planes; and the number of spacecraft
per orbital plane. Space sustainability considerations will be embedded in the design process.


Understanding of the link between mission requirements and constellation key parameter;
Understanding of space sustainability considerations;
A software tool to assist the design of spacecraft constellation,
possibly including a visualisation component.


  • Mechanical Engineeering
  • Mechatronic Engineering


Good analytical/mathematical skills.
Good programming skills.
Basic knowledge of orbital dynamics preferred.

Please email Prof Roberto Armellin ( for more info

Assessing the collision risk of spacecraft mega-constellations (Dr. Laura Pirovano)


Constellations of thousands of spacecraft are currently being launched, see for example SpaceX Starlink. While on the one hand,
these constellations will provide new or better services on the ground; on the other hand, they will increase the risk of orbital collisions. The
available tools to estimate this risk currently rely on strong assumptions to make the calculations tractable from a computational
standpoint. In this project, we aim to start implementing a new tool for assessing the collision risk that models the physics of the problem
more accurately.


  • Understanding of orbital dynamics;
  • Understanding of orbital conjunction;
  • A software prototype to accurately assess the collision risk
    associated with mega-constellations


  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechatronics Engineering


  • Good analytical/mathematical skills.
  • Good programming skills.
  • Experience in high-performance computing preferable.
  • Basic knowledge of orbital dynamics preferable

Please email Dr. Laura Pirovano ( for more info

Optical Satellite Tracking (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury and Dr John Cater)


This project will investigate how to adapt a Meade LX200GPS telescope to track a satellite. This will involve interfacing the output from existing satellite orbit prediction soltware to commonly used telescope control protocols, and demonstrating the successful performance of the system.

Stretch goals:

  • performing photometry on the satellite images to extract a photometric time series, utilising existing theoretical models of satellite reflection to predict luminosity as seen from a point on the Earth, and comparing the two,
  • performing basic positional analysis of the satellite position as compared to background star trails and comparing these to publicly available satellite orbital position ephemerides.


  • One of the Physics Department’s Meade LX200 GPS telescopes will be able to track a satellite on orbit.


  • Engineering Science


  • The ideal students will have training in mechatronics.
  • Experience with optical systems preferred, but not essential.
  • Experience with astronomical observations and telescope system and imaging preferred, but not essential.

Please email Dr. Nick Rattenbury ( or Dr. John Cater ( for more info.

Reversible Jump Metropolis Hastings Markov Chain Monte Carlo for Extra-solar planetary system characterisation (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury)


The Nancy Grace Roman space telescope (formerly WFIRST) will collect observational data to detect extra­ solar planets through gravitational microlensing. These data will likely contain evidence for multiple-planetary systems. Existing analysis algorithms and practice will struggle to cope with such rich time series.

This project will extend existing initial work on the RJMHMCMC algorithm for choosing between competing models explaining multiple planetary systems.


  • An improved RJMHMCMC algorithm, tested on simulated multiple-planetary microlensing light curves and an investigation into its utility for selecting between competing models to these data.
  • Stretch goal: Preparing results for publcation


  • Engineering Science


This project would suit an engineering science student with competence in the following:

  • inverse problems
  • applied mathematics
  • programming

Please email Dr. Nick Rattenbury ( for more info.

S/X Band Satellite Tracking System (G Aglietti and Chris Jackson)

Te Pūnaha Ātea – Space Institute is looking to launch and operate spacecraft operating in the S and X space operations bands (approximately 2GHz and 8GHz). At these frequencies a large dish antenna is required and the project is to investigate and produce a system to operate in these bands.  A large antenna is available for use with the project, but requires a mount, and servo system to allow it to track Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Spacecraft. Additionally an RF feed system and cable management should be considered within the mechanical design.

Students will consider the requirements relating to tracking satellites in LEO, as well as the environmental considerations of operating large antenna systems. The system specifications will be defined and a mechanical mount and electro-mechanical control system will be designed to meet the specification.


  • Understanding the requirements of communicating with spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit with large antenna systems
  • System specification and environmental loading analyses
  • System design of mechanical mount and servo control system


  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechatronic Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering