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Optimization based design assistance for chemical propulsion systems

   Faculty of Social Sciences

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  Prof Joerg Fliege, Dr qi Qi, Prof Joe Ward  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Hybrid rocket engines present a number of critical advantages over their more commonly used solid and liquid counterparts, in providing lower-cost access to space. Their mechanical simplicity coupled with their comparable performance are expected to be able to yield a cost reduction of over 33% along with enabling launch systems to have much faster response times.

That said, at present, no launch vehicle that has delivered a payload to orbit has ever been powered by a hybrid rocket engine; the reasons behind this are complex, but the end result of this is that, at present, hybrid rocket engines are at a significantly lower technological readiness level and have immense room for performance growth.

The objective of this project is to develop and implement an efficient global/local multi-objective optimisation algorithm to enable power the next generation of Smallspark Space Systems’ moore.Ai engineering design assistance technology.

The mission of Smallspark Space Systems, and moore.Ai is to be a global leader in the realm of design automation for multi-variable, multi-objective, multi-physics engineering challenges; reducing development timelines and the workload on engineers, enabling them to focus on more human appropriate tasks. Smallspark will leverage this technology to further reduce the cost and development time of its orbital and suborbital launch vehicles.  

Supervisory Team

Prof Joerg Fliege, Head of Operational Research Group, Mathematical Sciences, University of Southampton, Email [Email Address Removed]

Prof Houduo Qi, Mathematical Sciences, University of Southampton

Joe Ward, SmallSpark Space Systems, [Email Address Removed]

Skills required

Excellent background in mathematics, computer science, computational engineering or similar topics. Very good understanding of continuous optimisation, both in theory and computation. Strong programming and communication skills.


28 February 2022

Start date

End of September 2022 or earlier.

How to apply

Apply for the research degree programme PhD Mathematical Sciences in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Applications should be made only at

Host Institution

You will be based at the University of Southampton, a research intensive university and a founding member of the Russell Group of elite British universities. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, Southampton was ranked 8th for research intensity. In 2017-18, Southampton has been ranked 5th in the UK for research grant income. Besides being recognised as one of the leading research universities in the UK, Southampton has also achieved consistently high scores for its teaching and learning activities. In the Research Excellence framework, 100% of Mathematics research impact and research environment was specifically rated as of internationally excellent or world-leading quality. The broad range of Mathematical Sciences at Southampton gives Southampton a unique ability to contribute to the scientific and social challenges facing society.

Southampton has an excellent track record for optimisation. Statistics and Operational Research groups have existed within Mathematical Sciences since the 1960s. In the early 2000s, the broad multidisciplinary nature of Southampton activity in these areas was recognised through the establishment of the Centre of Operational Research, Management Sciences and Information Systems CORMSIS, which spans Mathematical Sciences and Southampton Business School. Operational Research at the University of Southampton is ranked 34th in the world, and top 10 in the UK, according to the latest QS World Rankings. You will be a member of CORMSIS for the duration of your PhD studies.

Funding Notes

The scholarship will cover a stipend of ca. £15k per year, the student fees of ca. £5k per year, and a research and a research and travel budget of ca. £1k. The scholarship will be funded 50% by SmallSpark Space Systems Ltd and 50% by the University of Southampton.
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