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  Combustion studies of organogelated hydrocarbon fuels with electrical capacitance tomography for Hybrid Rocket Engine development

   Faculty of Engineering, Computing and the Environment

   Tuesday, October 01, 2024  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Kingston University has developed and pioneered the use of two innovative technologies in recent years that we hope will have a significant impact on the space and launch propulsion sectors. The first is the development of Electrical Capacitance Tomography (ECT) to measure the internal combustion and regression of a hybrid propellant space propulsion system. The second is the gelation/solidification of hydrocarbon propellants using cholesteryl, sugar-based and amide-based gelators. The aim of this PhD is to investigate novel propellants for use in hybrid propellant propulsion systems and to analyse their combustion properties using ECT and machine learning driven data analysis. This PhD studentship requires the candidate to build expertise in AI and machine learning, gelation chemistry and space propulsion engineering & testing.

Recent (unpublished) results from a collaboration between Dr Shaw and Dr Bear have shown that low molecular weight organogelator (LMWO) molecules have been shown to be effective at gelling hydrocarbon propellants including RP-1. LMWOs offer a significant advantage over conventional gelators insofar as they are small molecules (therefore easily and cleanly combusted) and can gel propellants at much lower concentrations (>0.1 wt. %). The successful candidate will synthesise and test novel LMWO molecules in the lab of J Bear, fully characterise and analyse their rheological properties before testing and refining their gel composition for use as a solid propellant using ECT. LMWOs will be chosen based on their critical gelator concentrations (CGCs), ease and cost of synthesis and similarity to combustion profiles exhibited by the gelled propellants.

Once a stable propellant has been formed it will be integrated into a hybrid propellant propulsion system designed by the candidate and combusted in our onsite rocket test lab facility. The hybrid propulsion system will be made specifically to be compatible with the Kingston ECT system to collect data on the internal combustion characteristics of the solidified hydrocarbon propellant. The data will need to be analysed using machine learning techniques to understand the various products of combustion and how they interact with the ECT sensor and their surroundings.

This PhD covers a wide range of skills and so it is essential the candidate has a 2:1 or above degree in chemistry, computer science or aerospace/space technology engineering and can demonstrate through other projects or experiences knowledge in the other two areas not aligned with their degree. I.e., an applicant with a degree in chemistry will need to show experience in aerospace-based activities and computer science-based activities. Expert tuition from academics across these three areas will assist you during your PhD but it is important to demonstrate some prior experience in your application.

Rocketry Research, Teaching, and Training (R2T2) is an integrated doctoral programme, run across eight UK universities, which seeks to provide the opportunity to pursue a PhD space launch technologies. The programme is fully funded, with a budget to support practical experiments which may include hotfire, cold-flow, wind tunnel experiments, or similar, according to the needs of the specific project (please see below). Where hotfire is indicated, technical oversight will be put in place. In addition, a practical and online training scheme will be put in place, designed to offer an introduction to the skills required in the space launch industry. These will likely include project management skills, propellant handling, gas/cryo safety, and many more. Parts of this training programme will be delivered at Westcott, UK

For further details and to discuss a prospective application, please contact Dr Peter Shaw 


Eligibility: Upper Second Honours or First Class degree in Engineering, Chemistry or Computer Sciences or a related discipline; a Masters degree in these subjects would be of advantage. In addition, applicants should be able to demonstrate an interest in Engineering, Chemistry and Computer Sciences (even if they only completed a degree in one of those areas) and an interest in space and launch propulsion.

 English Language: If you are not from an English-speaking country, or have not studied at a British university before, you will need to show proof of internet-based Academic IELTS minimum 6.5 overall (or equivalent qualification), with a minimum score of 6.0 in all elements. Please see these pages for further information

Interviews: online, date to be confirmed

 Start date: early January 2025

 Duration: 4 years full-time

 How to apply: submit an online application via How to apply for a research degree (PhD, Professional Doctorate, MPhil, MA/MSc by Research) - Kingston University London. You must include the following with your application

 ·        An academic CV

·        Copies of your academic certificates (degree level onwards)

·        A covering letter stating why you consider you are suitable for the position (maximum 2 pages A4), headed “Rocketry studentship – Dr Peter Shaw”

·        A copy of your English language qualification, if applicable (see ‘English Language’ above)

 References do not need to be included with the application, but will be required for shortlisted applicants. 

 Please ensure that all required documents are submitted together with your application form as we are unable to consider incomplete applications. 

 You should assume that your application has been unsuccessful if you have not heard from us by 4 weeks after the closing date. 

Chemistry (6) Computer Science (8) Engineering (12) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

Fee level of sponsorship:   UK fee level – EU & international candidates will need to demonstrate that they can fund the difference in fees each year

Tuition fee information is at Research fees - Research degrees - Research - Kingston University London


Annual stipend:  £21,570 per year x 4 years

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