PhD Optical free-space communications for formation flying

PhD Optical free-space communications for formation flying

Published Deadline Location
28 Sep 1 Nov Delft

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Job description

In the NWO-funded Perspective program Optical Wireless Superhighways, new perspectives can be opened for wireless communication which will offer unprecedented capacity, connection density, privacy, and energy efficiency. Five universities and a variety of knowledge Institutes and industries are joining forces to explore these opportunities at all length scales: ranging from ultra-long links between satellites, to short links within indoor rooms. We are looking for enthusiastic PhD students to join our program.

Satellite formations allow the observations of phenomena from different points of view, allowing measurements otherwise impossible. Such distributed instrument would acquire information and combine it based on the respective positions, relying on communication and relative position estimation.

The aim of this PhD is advancing the field of satellite formations and distributed instrument by employing a laser link performing concurrent data transmission and ranging between multiple satellites down to accuracies and data rates not reachable with traditional radio-frequency links. This is a relatively un-explored topic as comparable systems are typically designed for either communications or ranging. This opens up several possibilities for scientific and commercial missions with multiple satellites, creating an affordable system also capable of tolerating partial failures. During this PhD, the successful candidate will develop a model of the laser communication channel, estimating the achievable performances in terms of communications and position determination, based on a set of reference missions and available hardware. This model will be validated with laboratory experiments and it will be used to derive relative distance measurements. Based on the achievable performances, this model will be used, for example, to quantify the performance of the science return for various missions, such as the improved space weather observables for Low Earth Orbit missions. Other satellite formation concepts will also be analysed to better assess the full potential of this technology. Based on the achied results, the performances of the laser system will be optimized to improve the scientific return on the analysed missions and from the space systems point of view, leading to a versatile and high-performances distributed instrument design.


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


We are looking for an enthusiastic researcher with excellent qualifications with a university degree (Master or equivalent) in Aerospace Engineering or a related subject. An affinity to experimental work relating to satellite communications and/or ranging, as well as good programming (Python/C++) and numerical simulations skills is expected. A very good command of the English language is required, as well as excellent communication skills. The candidate shall possess good writing skills and should enjoy working in an interdisciplinary environment. 

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 jaar.

TU Delft offers PhD-candidates a 4-year contract, with an official go/no go progress assessment after one year. Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2434 per month in the first year to € 3111 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance and sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. For international applicants we offer the Coming to Delft Service and Partner Career Advice to assist you with your relocation.


Delft University of Technology

Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context. At TU Delft we embrace diversity and aim to be as inclusive as possible (see our Code of Conduct). Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale.

Challenge. Change. Impact! 


Faculty Aerospace Engineering

The Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology is one of the world’s most highly ranked (and most comprehensive) research, education and innovation communities devoted entirely to aerospace engineering. More than 200 science staff, around 250 PhD candidates and over 2,700 BSc and MSc students apply aerospace engineering disciplines to address the global societal challenges that threaten us today, climate change without doubt being the most important. Our focal subjects: sustainable aerospace, big data and artificial intelligence, bio-inspired engineering and smart instruments and systems. Working at the faculty means working together. With partners in other faculties, knowledge institutes, governments and industry, both aerospace and non-aerospace. Working in field labs and innovation hubs on our university campus and beyond.

Click here to go to the website of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering.


  • PhD
  • Engineering
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2434—€3111 per month
  • University graduate
  • TUD01527


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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