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The past several decades have seen a steady accumulation of objects in Earth orbit as modern society has become more reliant on space-based infrastructure to provide basic services. The recent influx of small satellites and large constellations poses clear challenges to space traffic management and highlights the need for autonomous space surveillance and tracking capability in order to maintain safe and sustainable space operations. Such systems must accurately identify and catalog objects, estimate orbits, evaluate the risk of collisions, and characterize the behavior of objects on orbit, a set of tasks collectively referred to as space situational awareness.
Space debris tracking poses unique challenges for estimation and sensor management. Most objects orbit the Earth multiple times a day but are tracked by sensors at fixed locations on the ground, meaning there are limited observation opportunities, which are further constrained by operating limitations of the sensors themselves. Errors and uncertainties in orbit prediction models necessitate regular tracking to maintain custody of objects and accurately evaluate the risk of collisions. Different sensors provide different types and quality of data, and the fusion of data from disparate sources can enhance the accuracy of state estimates and enable better characterization of physical parameters of space objects. In order to meet the needs of safe space traffic management, we therefore require networks comprised of different kinds of sensors, geographically dispersed to provide regular coverage of objects across multiple orbit regimes.
The operation of sensor networks poses challenges in itself; sensors may be tasked independently or collectively, information may be fused centrally or in a distributed manner. The primary aims of the PhD project are to develop and evaluate creative solutions in managing networks of SSA sensors. In particular, you will develop methods to efficiently task sensors to achieve multiple competing objectives (search, track, characterize), respond dynamically to events (launches, breakups, sensor outages), and operate asynchronously, fusing information from sensors into the network as they are able to contribute. To this end, TU Delft operates or has access to both wide-field and narrow field of view optical sensors to provide angles-only measurements, and a radio ground station that can measure spacecraft velocity through the Doppler effect, allowing for the evaluation of developed methods using real data from different sensor types. You will publish the results of your study through a dissertation, which collects at least 3 peer reviewed papers on (parts of) the study.
Applicants should have a Master degree from a renowned institution in Aerospace or Electrical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, or another area deemed relevant for the proposed research. Acquaintance with orbit determination and force modelling are considered assets, as are experience with sensors and data processing for SSA. Strong motivation, creativity, and proactivity are welcomed, as well as good interpersonal communication skills. Good programming skills are required. Applicants should be good in spoken and written English, and willing to improve to facilitate publishing the results.
Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.
Fixed-term contract: 4 years.
Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1,5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months. Followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2,5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.
Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2541 per month in the first year to € 3247 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 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 as one of our core values and we actively engage to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.
Challenge. Change. Impact!
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.
Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)
Mekelweg 2, 2628 CD, Delft
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