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You may also propose your own research topic and supervisor.

You must have applied and been accepted to a Research Master programme to select a project

To submit your project choices (optionally including one of your own) please click here.

For more information or if you have questions – please use the contact form at the bottom of this page.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


  • 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.


  • Reviewed drawings
  • Software for measurement and analyses
  • Method to predict shock response spectra
  • Realization at least as a prototype and proof of concept
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.


  • Literature concepts
  • Approved design
  • Validated test bed
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.

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.

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

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

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.


  • Literature review
  • Circuit schematic design
  • Test bed realisation and demonstration
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.


  • 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


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


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.


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.

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
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.
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.


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).

S/X Band Satellite Tracking System (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.



  • 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

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