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1. 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.

2. Telescope Scheduling. (Dr Oliver Sinnen)
Telescopes observe celestial objects (or sources) in the sky. The telescopes are usually movable and can point at different positions in the sky. Very large scientific telescopes in astronomical observatories are highly specialised, very expensive and scarce. Hence, they must be used as efficiently as possible.

In this project you will investigate and develop scheduling and ordering algorithms to optimise the use of telescopes. This includes the development of a tool that can process lists of sources to be observed, which then creates optimised observation sequences that can be used for the operation of real telescopes.

3. High performance computing for pulsar and fast radio burst astronomy. (Dr Oliver Sinnen)
One of the challenging science problems in radio astronomy is the search and timing of pulsars and fast radio bursts (FSB). Pulsars are rotating neutron stars that cannot be seen but send out electromagnetic pulses with a very stable frequency. This makes them very precise clocks, but also helps to study the physical properties of other objects, including black holes, gravitational waves and general relativity.

Proposed methods to search for unknown pulsars are based on brute force approaches, where the telescope data is processed assuming wide ranges of possible parameters. This project will investigate and implement novel high performance algorithms and methods for the search and characterisation of Pulsars and FSBs.

4. Developing a mission concept: satellite communications to Antarctica. (Dr Andrew Austin)
New Zealand operates a year-round scientific station on Antarctica (Scott Base). Currently, satellite communications to Scott Base is achieved via Intelsat. However, there are significant limitations on bandwidth, which limits the amount of data that can be transferred to/from NZ over the existing link. Given these limitations, this project aims to develop the preliminary mission specifications for a dedicated communications SmallSat placed in a Molniya orbit. In particular, the project will consider operational parameters for the communications-subsystem of the satellite, including mode of operation, frequency, bandwidth, and power budget.
5. Initial orbit determination in cislunar space. (Prof Roberto Armellin)
There is a renewed interest in missions in cislunar space, the American Artemis program and the Chinese Chang’e project are just two examples. As a result, the space around the Moon will be populated with spacecraft, some of which will be manned. To guarantee the safety of these missions, it will be necessary to extend space domain awareness to cislunar space. This new need will bring many challenges. The difficulty to track these distant objects and the non-Keplerian, possibly chaotic, dynamics are two relevant ones. This research project aims to develop new initial orbit determination algorithms tailored for non-Keplerian dynamics and the use of both ground- and space-based optical observations, an essential capability for space safety in cislunar space.
6. Autonomous interplanetary navigation. (Prof Roberto Armellin)
One of the main trends in space exploration is the use of small and low-cost probes. However, space operations are expensive as they involve the use of Earth-based facilities. Achieving autonomous navigation is a major objective to further reduce mission cost and enable new scenarios (e.g. when the communication latency is a major obstacle). Recently, concepts based on the use of both natural and artificial bodies as objects to track for navigation purposes (ONAV) have been proposed, as well as other more sophisticated approaches based on the relativistic perturbation of starlight (StarNav). In this project, we will investigate the development of spacecraft navigation algorithms that fuse different types of observations, and we will assess their suitability for use onboard low-cost missions.
7. Optimal space trajectories by convex optimisation. (Prof Roberto Armellin)
Corrective manoeuvres are needed for space trajectories due to many reasons including mismodeled or neglected dynamics, navigation errors, missed thrust. The simplest way to guide a spacecraft is to track a reference trajectory: this method is computationally light and can be performed autonomously, however sacrificing optimality. This drawback can be avoided by calculating a new reference trajectory by solving an optimal control problem. However, this task is computationally intensive and thus must be performed on the ground and uploaded on the spacecraft. In this project, we will investigate the use of convex optimization to update trajectories autonomously onboard. We will apply this approach to rendezvous problems around the Earth (e.g. for active debris removal) and to the guidance of interplanetary missions.
8. Near field scanner. (Prof G. Aglietti)

The exact characterization of antenna properties is crucial for successful space missions. To enable efficient measurements a scanner is to be developed to move the measurement probe automatically with high precision in the near field of the antenna. The area to be covered is 2m by 2m. The control software for the scanner should be integrated into the existing software for data acquisition and signal analysis, which was coded in Matlab.

Outcome:

  • Concept and design of the scanner including actuator and sensor.
  • Development of the control software as part of an existing Matlab software.
  • Realization at least as a prototype and proof of concept.
9. Equipment to measure the center of gravity. (Prof G. Aglietti)

It is crucial for successful space missions to identify the mass properties of all payloads exactly. The exact knowledge of the centre of gravity (CoG) is also needed for vibration testing of the space structure, which will be performed in the environmental test facilities of Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute. Commercial CoG measurement systems are very expensive, but 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.

Outcome:

  • 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.
10. Equipment to measure the moment of inertia. (Prof G. Aglietti)

It is crucial for successful space missions to identify the mass properties of spacecraft. Attitude control requires accurate knowledge of the Moment of Inertia (MoI) of the spacecraft about all axes, including different states of deployable structures. The exact knowledge of the MoI is also needed for vibration testing of the space structure, which will be performed in the environmental test facilities of Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute. Commercial MoI measurement systems are very expensive, but the development of such a device is an attractive and suitable task for a student project. The task here is to review available literature, to study different concepts and to develop a design for a device suitable for testing a nanosatellite considering the requirement that the MoI should be measured to an accuracy of +- 1.5 percent. 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.

Outcome:

  • 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.
11. Realisation of shock test facility. (Prof G Aglietti)

In a previous project a concept was developed for a shock test facility. The concept, design and drawings need to be thoroughly reviewed. Afterwards the manufacturing, assembly and commissioning can start. Software should be developed, which includes both data acquisition and analyses of shock response spectra (SRS). In order to reduce the number of trials to reach the correct shock response spectra, software would be helpful to simulate the resulting SRS dependent on the boundary and initial conditions.

Outcome:

  • Reviewed drawings
  • Software for measurement and analyses
  • Method to predict shock response spectra
  • Realization at least as a prototype and proof of concept
12. Characterization of micro vibrations. (Prof G. Aglietti)

Micro vibrations, e. g. caused by reaction wheels, limit the capabilities of satellites. It is of utmost importance to understand the vibrations which are caused by different sources and to reduce them to a minimum. Expensive test beds are used to identify these vibrations. In this project the objective is to study the possibility to build a testbed. After a literature review, different concepts have to be developed and assessed. If one concept is promising, a design of the test bed will be developed. If time allows, the manufacturing and commissioning are also part of the project.

Outcome:

  • Literature concepts
  • Approved design
  • Validated test bed
13. Free Space Optical Communications (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury/ Dr John Cater)

Te Pūnaha Atea  – Auckland Space Institute is conducting research into free space optical communications, in particular providing optical communication links between ground and in-orbit satellites. Successful candidates for this research project would tackle one or more of the following as preparatory work for optical communications:

* Designing instrumentation to record reflected light from in orbit satellites, 

* Adapting existing telescope systems to track in-orbit satellites,

* Deriving satellite attitude characteristics from recorded reflected time series data.  

Successful candidates will have experience in at least some of:

* optical astronomy and astronomical imaging,

* optics and/or optoelectronics,

* electronics,

* time series analysis, image analysis.

14. Space Qualification of High Performance GPU (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury/Dr John Cater)

At the heart of a satellite is the On-Board Computer (OBC). This project will focus on the performance of a particular new high performance GPU designed for the aerospace industry. The project will involve testing the GPU-based OBC in a simulated space environment. This work will aim to perform qualification testing of the OBC in this environment, running existing example GPU codes to simulate on-orbit demands. 

Successful candidates will require:

* GPU programming experience

* Electronics

Desirable experience includes:

* Working with vacuum systems,

* Vibration testing of mechanical systems.   

15. Star Tracking (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury/Dr John Cater)

This project will develop existing in-house star tracker hardware and software. Star trackers are systems that enable a mission controller to derive satellite attitude from observations of stars or other astronomical objects.  Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute has been leading research into developing a system that provides a high performance-to-cost ratio for upcoming missions.

Successful candidates will require experience in: 

* image analysis,

* astronomical and/or space coordinate systems,

* C/C++/Python/Matlab programming

16. Pulsed Plasma Thruster Performance Optimisation (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury/Dr John Cater)

Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute is conducting a validation exercise with our German research collaborators on a particular design of a Pulsed Plasma Thruster. This research will be to create a thrust balance for our PPT, and operate the PPT in a vacuum chamber, measuring the thrust generated. 

Successful candidates will require experience in:  

* Applied physics or mechanics,

* CAD.

Desirable experience includes:

* Working with vacuum systems,

* Electronics, particularly power supplies

* Microcontroller programming

17. Solar panel power harvester and battery charge regulator circuit design build and test (Prof G Aglietti)

Provision of power on a satellite is a fundamental requirement for an operational system. With few exceptions, satellites will harvest power from solar panels to supply onboard systems and store excess power in batteries. Various approaches can be taken to optimise energy harvesting from solar arrays and to safely regulate power to charge batteries. This project will review solar power energy harvesting and battery charging techniques and design, build and test a development model compatible with CubeSat demands using Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) components.

Successful candidates will require knowledge of Electronics design and test including use of ECAD.

Outcomes:

  • Literature review
  • Circuit schematic design
  • Test bed realisation and demonstration
18. CubeSat ‘tuna can’ release mechanism (Prof G Aglietti)

The CubeSat standard provides an extended volume within the inside diameter of the spring of containerised deployers which often goes unutilised. The so-called “Tuna-can” volume provides opportunities for bolt-on spacecraft elements and deployable structures which are under development at Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute. This project will develop a release mechanism for use on these systems for deployment of structures, covers and free flying elements. A high degree of miniaturisation and versatility will be required to meet requirements for all use cases, whilst the design must be resilient to launch and space environments including potentially multi-year stowage.

Successful candidates will require knowledge of mechanical and mechanism design and test including use of MCAD.

19. CubeSat Thermal Modelling Tool (Prof G Aglietti)

Appropriate thermal design is an often-overlooked aspect of CubeSat missions. Available tools for modelling have either a steep learning curve, poor supporting documentation, a considerable price tag, or a combination of all three. Despite this fact, the simplicity of the basic CubeSat lends itself to the development of a user-friendly software tool to provide a first order model of expected thermal performance of a CubeSat on orbit. In addition to supporting both novice and experienced spacecraft developers, the ability to easily change mechanical configurations and switch between standard materials and surface finishes, as well as the effect of different orbital parameters would also make for a valuable teaching aid. The successful candidate will have an understanding of thermal design and experience in software development. The student will perform a survey of existing software packages and a literature review of thermal modelling processes. A set of requirements should be established through consultation with internal and external spacecraft developers, followed by implementation and validation of the software with appropriate datasets.

Outcome:

  • Thermal modelling literature review and software survey
  • Capture of requirements for a CubeSat thermal modelling tool
  • Implementation of an appropriate tool to meet requirements
  • Validation of model performance

 

20. Magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) Thruster Experimentation and Simulation (Dr Nick Rattenbury and Dr John Cater)

Project Outline  

 Te Pūnaha Ātea has an active research project to demonstrate an MPD thruster in space. This project will require the student to create a CAD model of a proposed space satellite, comprising an MPD thruster and its associated subsystems. The student will use this model in simulation software to predict its performance on orbit. The performance metrics will include:

  • thermal performance, using an assumed power consumption,
  • orbital evolution, using an assumed thrust performance,
  • power harvesting performance, using assumed solar panel fit-out.

The student will also create a dummy satellite comprising volume elements corresponding to commercial off-the-shelf subsystems and the MPD thruster. 

The successful candidate will preferably have experience or training in:

  • CAD,
  • Power electronics,
  • Thermal modelling,

Classical mechanics and/or orbital dynamics

 

21. e-Propulsion Thrust balance (Dr. Nick Rattenbury and Dr John Cater)

Project Outline

Te Pūnaha Ātea is developing a plasma propulsion physics research laboratory. This requires the construction of specialist electromechanical and optoelectronic sensors. The work will involve constructing these sensors and their controlling and interface circuits, and testing and validating this equipment. This work will involve becoming familiar with the research to date, and one or more of finalising an existing prototype thrust balance, and assembling a working thrust experiment.

The successful candidate will preferably have experience or training in:

  • Applied physics,
  • CAD,
  • Power and control electronics.

 

22. Biodegradable power source for sub-Antarctic shelf sensor mesh network (Dr Nick Rattenbury and Dr John Cater)

Project Outline

The interaction between circulating warm water into the region under the Antarctic ice-shelf is of particular interest to climate modellers and theorists. However, returning high resolution time and spatial data for measures of water temperature and salinity is difficult and expensive. One solution is to distribute a disposable sensor network composed of tens to hundreds of free-floating sensors, interconnected through an efficient communication mesh network. Powering these sensors is a challenge, as most conventional batteries comprise materials that are ecologically damaging.

Recent work, however, has found a battery solution that is ecologically benign:

Huang, Xueying & Wang, Dan & Yuan, Zhangyi & Xie, Wensheng & Wu, Yixin & Li, Rongfeng & Zhao, Yu & Luo, Deng & Cen, Liang & Chen, Binbin & Wu, Hui & Xu, Hangxun & Sheng, Xing & Zhang, Milin & Zhao, Lingyun & Yin, Lan. (2018). Biodegradable Batteries: A Fully Biodegradable Battery for Self-Powered Transient Implants (Small 28/2018). Small. 14. 1870129. 10.1002/smll.201870129. https://doi.org/10.1002/smll.201800994

Work has begun to replicate this type of battery and investigate the extent to which they may be incorporated into a sensor network that can be deployed in ecologically sensitive environments.

This project will require the student to construct a biodegradable battery and investigate its performance envelope.

The successful candidate will preferably have experience or training in:

  • applied physics and/or chemistry,
  • electronics
23. Stare and Chase for refining orbital trajectories (Dr Nick Rattenbury and Dr John Cater)

Project Outline

 We will experiment with a modern tracking mount (ioptron CEM40G) to construct a prototype optical imaging system which can provide accurate positional information for on-orbit objects. This will require the student to familiarise themselves with the mount system and adapt current tracking software to demonstrate feasibility. The student will use existing software to control the mount to capture images of satellites. You will analyse the images and compute precise positions by referencing to star trails in the images. You will then perform a basic orbit determination using these data and compare these to predicted values from two-line elements. 

The successful candidate will preferably have experience or training in:  

  • Image analysis,
  • Applied physics/experimentation,
  • Astromonmy/astronomical observations. 
24. Initial site testing for space optical communications (Dr Nick Rattenbury and Dr John Cater)

Project Outline

Te Pūnaha Ātea is developing plans to create a New Zealand node of the Australian Optical Communication Ground Station Network. This requires site testing at several potential sites across New Zealand. Site testing comprises (i) astronomical seeing observations to estimate the stability of the atmosphere above the observing site and (ii) cloud and environment testing.

This project will involve conducting seeing observation tests with a Meade LX200GPS telescope configured as a Differential Image Motion Monitor and specialist commercial software.

The successful candidate will preferably have experience or training in:

  • applied physics and/or astronomical imaging/astronomy,
  • image analysis.