Masters projects

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

You may also propose your own research topic and supervisor.


You must have applied and been accepted to a Master Aerospace Engineering (Research) programme to select a project

To submit your project choices, please contact the academic in charge of the project. Alternatively, if you want to propose your own project, please discuss with the academic working in your proposed area – Academics

For more information or if you have questions – please email Here

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.

Life cycle assessment of space missions (Dr Priyanka Dhopade, Dr Cody Mankelow, Dr Ben Taylor)

Space technologies are fundamental to humanity’s sustainable future. For example, of the 50 essential variables to assess Earth’s climate, 26 are only measurable by satellite technology. However, the trade-off between the environmental cost and the social, environmental or economic gain from developing space technology is poorly understood. The recent development of the European Space Agency (ESA) Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Eco Design framework will enable our understanding of these trade-offs.

This Masters project will research the sustainable design of space missions by assessing an Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute mission in real-time during development. The project will involve LCA modeling using OpenLCA software, data collection, and qualitative analysis to identify data availability, barriers to sustainable design and assessment, and supply chain mapping.

No coding skills are required.

Reaction Wheels Development (Prof G Aglietti)

Reaction Wheels are a type of actuator typically used to control the attitude and pointing of satellites. In these mechanisms a rotor is connected to an electric motor which can accelerate or decelerate thus exchanging angular momentum with the satellite platform to produce rotations of the latter.

Unavoidable manufacturing tolerances (e.g. rotor unbalance, bearing surface roughness), during the functioning of the device produce microvibrations that can degrade the performance of accurately targeted instruments onboard the satellite.

This project will be carried out in cooperation with an industrial sponsor (Rocket Lab) and will focus on the issue of the balancing of the wheels and the micro vibrations that are produced by the device. Cutting edge technologies will be investigated to produce disrupting innovation in the design. In addition, during the project the student will carry out tests on physical hardware to correlate and verify predictions, and qualify equipment. 

Telescope Scheduling. (Assoc. Prof. 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.

Fault tolerant scheduling and computing for CubeSats (Assoc. Prof Oliver Sinnen)

Fault tolerance is an important property of any space mission. In large, expensive satellites, redundant hardware systems are used to improve reliability of computing in space to ensure their success. For smaller, cheaper satellites, like CubeSats redundant hardware is often not an option.

Nevertheless, it is of vital interest to make all satellite missions as reliable as possible.

In this project we will investigate if and how we can make computing in CubeSats more fault tolerant. The focus will be on scheduling techniques for the various on board tasks of typical systems and payloads found in CubeSats.

After identifying common operating systems and software stacks of CubeSats in an extensive literature review, we will identify which scheduling and computing strategies can improve fault tolerance. Existing scheduling techniques will be adopted to this scenario and we will fill gaps with novel approaches and algorithms.

Supervisor: Oliver Sinnen

High performance computing for pulsar and fast radio burst astronomy. (Assoc. Prof. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
Ultra-Low profile Reaction Wheel Assembly (Prof G Aglietti and Dr Ben Taylor)

Reaction Wheels are a type of actuator typically used to control the attitude and pointing of satellites.  As for all satellite equipment the minimization of mass and volume is of paramount importance. The aim of this project is develop a very thin reaction wheel assembly, to enable the integration of these actuators in nanosatellite or CubeSat satellite wall panels. Electric motors with longitudinal dimension of only a few millimetres are routinely utilized in devices such as Laptop Hard Disks.

As a starting point the capability of these devices to operate in the space environment has to be investigated, and depending on the outcome, a suitable solution need s to be developed to enable their use. The project will then continue with the design and system optimization of the whole Reaction Wheel Assembly. Some hardware will be designed, and assembled with Commercial Off the Shelf components to establish proofs of concepts to de-risk critical areas of the design.

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
Free Space Optical Communications (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury)

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.

UV Space Telescope Design (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury)

This project will require the student to create a CAD model of a 6U CubeSat comprising a telescope and spectrograph suitable for the detection of atmospheres of transiting exoplanets. There are a number of spectral lines in the UV which are very valuable for characterising an atmosphere. A small space telescope and spectrograph will be able to detect such atmospheres. A first step is creating an accurate CAD model of a suitable space telescope satellite mission. The space telescope is to comprise:

  • A 20 cm diameter parabolic mirror,
  • A secondary mirror on a deployable support,
  • An instrument comprising a spectroscope and corrective optics,
  • CubeSat subsystem units (power supply, OBC, transceiver etc.).

The student will:

  • Use the optical design software Zemax to design the optical path of the telescope and the spectrograph, 
  • Include optical elements which can correct for any errors in the deployment of the secondary mirror,
  • Estimate the accuracy to which the secondary mirror needs to be deployed to ensure sufficient light is injected into the spectrograph.

Requirements:

  • CAD design experience

Preferred, but not required:

  • Optical design experience, including experience with the Zemax software (or a willingness to learn).
ELROI Satellite Design and Construction (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury)

This project will require the student to create a CAD model of a 1U CubeSat comprising an Extremely Low Resource Optical Identifier (ELROI) and an arrangement of lenses and/or mirrors. The lenses and/or mirrors need to be arranged to project the ELROI signal in as many directions as possible. The ELROI system is designed to allow satellite operators to identify their smallsat quickly after separation from the launch vehicle and progress their Launch and Early Operations phase faster. ELROI has been developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The student will then manage the construction of the optical assembly of lenses and mirrors in a 1U CubeSat chassis and test its performance with an ELROI simulator unit. The optical assembly and 1U chassis will be qualified for operation in space at the National Test Facility of Te Pūnaha Ātea Space Institute. 

Requirements:

  • CAD design experience

Preferred, but not required:

  • Optical design experience, including experience with the Zemax software (or a willingness to learn),
  • Experience with Systems Toolkit (STK), or a willingness to learn.
Space Qualification of High Performance GPU (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury)

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.

Pulsed Plasma Thruster Performance Optimisation (Dr Nicholas Rattenbury)

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

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
e-Propulsion Thrust balance (Dr. Nick Rattenbury)

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.
Initial site testing for space optical communications (Dr Nick Rattenbury)

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.
Low-cost Earth escape from GTO/superGTO (Prof Roberto Armellin)

Project Outline

This project investigates ways to design low-delta v escape from the earth sphere of influence and injecting low-cost spacecraft into interplanetary transfers.

It will be assumed that the spacecraft is a secondary payload released on an GTO or Super GTO with constrained orbital parameters (from the launcher or main payload). Different strategies will need to be investigated and tradeoff between escape delta v and time for escape will be performed. The strategies will need to be assessed also by the capability of reaching desired sphere of influence exit conditions as much independently as possible from the initial release orbit. Ways to combine in multiple gravity assists of the Moon, the perturbation of the Sun as well as impulsive maneuvers will be analysed.

The project requires good knowledge of astrodynamics (ODE, gravity assist modelling), analytical and programming skills. Possible mission scenarios include low-cost transfer to small bodies using CubeSat.

On-board collision avoidance maneuvers with optimal control theory (Prof Roberto Armellin)

Project Outline

Due to the growing population of space objects and increasing activity in space the number of maneuvers that operative spacecraft need to be performed is steadily increasing. In this project we will investigate methods to design such maneuvers that are computationally light to be potentially carried out autonomously onboard, while minimising the use of propellant. The researcher will have to investigate different aspects of the problem including

  1. maneuver type (e.g. impulsive or low-thrust)
  2. dynamical model (e.g. Keplerian or perturbed dynamic, absolute or relative dynamics)
  3. formulation approach (e.g. based on perturbed Lambert solver or optimal control theory)
  4. solution method (e..g. numerical vs analytical)

After a first phase of literature review, gaps in the current methods will be identified and a selected research question will be addressed in detail.

A set of test cases available in the literature will be analysed. The project requires good analytical (e.g. for the formulation and solution of optimal control problems) and numerical skills (for the solution of complex two-point boundary value problems).

Robust reinforcement learning trajectories (Prof Roberto Armellin)

Project Outline

In the last years RL has been proposed as a technique for the guidance of spacecraft. Although the learning process can include uncertainties by training on distribution of initial conditions, the reward function is generally considered as deterministic. In this project we want to explore the inclusion of a stochastic component in the reward function to incentivize convergence to solutions that are more robust, i.e. for which the guidance cost is lower. One example is to represent a generic transfer trajectory as a multi-impulse transfer obtained by a sequence of Lamberts arcs. RL will be trained to learn how to optimally design the Lambert arcs and a feedback control component to minimise the sum of the transfer and guidance costs.     

 Behavioral cloning (Prof Roberto Armellin)

Project Outline

The main objective of this work is to develop a supervised learning technique for spacecraft guidance. Recently we have been developing high-order guidance techniques that reduce the guidance problem to the evaluation of Taylor polynomials. When uncertainties are large however a high number of polynomials are needed to be stored, which can account to gigabytes of data. The idea is that this data can be significantly compressed though the training of neural networks.      

S/X Band Satellite Tracking System (Prof. G Aglietti, 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.

Outcome

  • 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

Specialisations

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechatronic Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
Establishing an electronics radiation test capability for space (Prof G Aglietti, Dr Ben Taylor)

Electronic components used in space applications are exposed to damaging radiation from the Earth’s Van Allen belts, solar protons and galactic cosmic rays. Traditionally high reliability, radiation tolerant parts were used to ensure spacecraft systems would survive this harsh environment. “New Space” makes greater use of commercial off the shelf components, leveraging the improvements in technology driven by consumer electronics to achieve higher performance missions. These devices do however often need to be tested for their susceptibility to the space environment, including radiation. Currently Te Pūnaha Ātea – the Space Institute (TPA-SI) have capability to test thermal vacuum and launch environments, however no capacity to perform radiation testing. This project will develop the testing processes, professional connections, hardware and analysis tools to execute radiation testing on electronics test devices from University of Auckland at identified local, or regional facilities with an initial emphasis on devices used on upcoming TPA-SI missions, but also ultimately creating another tool for the NZ space sector.

Developing a CubeSat high data-rate transmitter (Prof G Aglietti, Dr Ben Taylor)

The objective of a high data-rate transmitter in satellites is to transmit application data back to the earth ground station at a high speed. With a higher data-rate transmitting ability, the overall data which can be downloaded from a satellite will be more. There are design challenges by considering CubeSat size and power constrains. Based on students’ own interests and experiences,  he/she will involve in one of areas of antenna design, RF front-end design, selection and tests (e.g. Low noise amplifier, power amplifier, RF filters and RF switch), Software-defined radio (SDR) selection and tests, and GNUradio algorithm developments. If there is a group students working on this project, eventually, students will work on the overall subsystem integration and tests.

Portable ground station developments for satellites (Prof G Aglietti, Dr Ben Taylor)

Ground station is essential for satellite’s owner, customer and amateur radio operators to communicate with satellites. However most ground station requires antenna to be installed on top of building or tower thus the ground station coverage is fixed. Commercial equipment for field operation is expensive and too bulky for convenience operation. This project aims to design and build a portable ground station system for satellite communication. Based on students’ own interests and experiences,  he/she will involve in one of areas antenna developments with automatic rotator, RF front-end selection and tests, transceiver using software defined radio (SDR) and software based on GNUradio. The goal is to make a low-cost and compact ground station system with high mobility and adaptability. The ground station will be tested with real spacecrafts operating in space, such as International Space Station (ISS), and NOAA satellites.

CubeSat Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem (ADCS) Developments (Prof G Aglietti, Dr Ben Taylor)

The Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem (ADCS) is a very critical subsystem in a satellite. Its objectives are,

  • Determination of the orientation of the satellite at any point in time using various sensors
  • Process of achieving and maintaining a desired attitude using various actuators

Based on students’ own interests and experiences,  he/she will involve in one of areas:

  • Sensor calibrations. The common sensors used in a ADCS are coast and fine sun sensors, magnetometers and gyros.
  • Magnetorquer design and control algorithm development.
  • Reaction wheel control algorithm development

 If there is a group students working on this project, eventually, students will work on the overall ADCS subsystem integration and tests.

Developing an integrated testbed for CubeSat Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem (ADACS) (Prof G Aglietti, Dr Ben Taylor)

The aim of this project is to develop an integrated ADCS testbed for CubeSat. The testbed consists of the following components:

  • Helmholtz cage for magnetometer and magnetorquer testing
  • Spherical airbearing platform for Guidance, navigation and Control (GNC) operations
  • Sun simulator for attitude determination using sun sensors

Based on students’ own interests and experiences, he/she will work on one of the components.

CubeSat Structure and Mechanism (SM) Developments (Prof G Aglietti, Dr Ben Taylor)

The structures and mechanisms subsystem mechanically supports all other spacecraft subsystems, attaches the spacecraft to the launch vehicle, and provides for ordnance-activated separation. The design must satisfy all strength and stiffness requirements of the spacecraft and of its interface to the booster. In this project, students will design and fabricate a structure based on a CubeSat standard. Students will also explore an innovative approach to design a structure which can be easily adjusted for different size of CubeSats.