Partial and micro-gravity testing is a critical step in the development of systems and components, particularly mechatronics and robotics, for use in orbital and planetary-based space applications. However, producing micro-gravity environments for testing purposes on Earth are challenging. Common methods include “zero-g” parabolic flights, sounding rockets, or drop-towers, but in each case the available duration of the test is short, and the logistics and costs involved for comprehensive testing programs can become prohibitive. However, the recent and rapidly developing capabilities of small unmanned aerial systems presents a possible opportunity to provide a radical new capability in partial and micro-gravity testing.
This project will investigate the use of different unmanned aerial systems to replace or complement alternative methods for generating partial and micro-gravity environments, with a focus on testing satellite and other space-based technologies (e.g. planetary robotics). Key elements of this project include the analysis of feasibility, system modelling, and scaling for different types of UAS for this purpose and development of flight controls for a proposed system. The project will also incorporate simulation and hardware-based testing where appropriate to verify the method and compare against the established alternatives. Analyses of the environmental impact and sustainability of developing such a testing capability and its economic cost will also be carried out.
This project will build on prior work in the Department of MACE in on experimental protocols for in-flight measurement of aerodynamic drag coefficients using UAVs . The experiments provide an alternative to traditional wind tunnel testing and have enabled the drag coefficient to be characterised at a range of angles of attack and sideslip angles using onboard instrumentation. This experience provides firm foundations for the present project, in which similar technology and experimental techniques may be applied.
The department also has ongoing research into lunar robotics, funded previously by the European Space Agency and currently by the EPSRC FAIR_SPACE hub. A series of virtual lunar environments have been developed that model lunar terrain and terradynamics. These are targeted at simulation of locomotive robotic dynamics, and mission planning for autonomous vehicles. Models have been developed using Unity gaming engine and Simulink multibody capabilities. The present project will have access to existing models and may utilise these to conduct virtual experiments in a range of reduced gravity environments. Associated physical models of these systems may be used to provide real-life example of robotics requiring testing in reduced gravity environments.
This project will also aim to develop new industrial relationships with key stakeholders in the industry and across the supply chain. This may include the regulator to ensure that these flights can be carried out safely, possible system manufacturers who could produce the technologies, service providers, and end users.
This project is well suited to candidates who are interested in aviation, space systems, robotics, and entrepreneurship. Students with experience in programming/coding, robotics, and/or engineering analysis are encouraged to apply. However, if you have a keen interest you will have the opportunity to develop these skills and more during the period of study.
Entry requirements can be found by selecting the relevant PhD programme at this link: http://www.mace.manchester.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/degree/.
Please contact Dr Crisp with any informal enquiries about the research topic. The admissions team at [Email Address Removed] will be able to help with any queries around the application process.
The online application form does not list individual project titles; when submitting an application, please select 'PhD Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (42 months)' as the academic programme and then 'PhD Aerospace Engineering' as the academic plan. Take note of the application checklist and provide the requested documents.
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