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  Prof Hugh Lewis  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Leverhulme PhD programme is administered by the Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences. This particular project will sit under the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

Outer Space provides critical socioeconomic benefit and irreplaceable cultural value but is under threat from exponentially growing satellite and space debris populations. This project focuses on the cultural evaluation and measuring of space sustainability and such detailed aspects as the technically central term of “orbital carrying capacity”. 

The space object population is reaching a tipping point, putting at risk our fundamental socioeconomic systems (Interconnected Disaster Risks, 2023) and degrading the quality of our shared night sky. As the space object population approaches this critical threshold, vital systems and infrastructures will become fragile, and astronomical observations, cultural experiences and practices dependent on dark and quiet skies will be damaged, unless resilience can be restored. Addressing these issues requires a truly interdisciplinary approach, merging humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, and engineering to realise sustainable use and exploration of outer space.  

This project focuses on the cultural evaluation of space sustainability and such detailed aspects as the technically central term of “orbital carrying capacity”. Ostensibly, orbital carrying capacity is a simple index used to portray space sustainability. As such, it has value for policymakers and regulators who wish to simplify their processes and base them upon an objective and consistent measure of humanity’s use and exploration of outer space. However, current approaches for measuring orbital carrying capacity marginalise or even neglect cultural perspectives and the impacts of outer space activities on ecological systems. This is particularly apparent in the context of dark skies. Hence, this project will aim to deliver a solution arising from studies of resilience with technical and cultural perspectives, developing a broader interdisciplinary approach in which the scientific and engineering concerns of space sustainability can be addressed. 

Research Groups involved:  

Astronautics Research Group, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences (

Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities (  


You will need to have a 2:1 honours undergraduate degree or equivalent qualification. If your grade was lower than 2:1 you can still apply, but your application and narrative CV should demonstrate progression since your degree.

If you have completed a master’s degree, you should have achieved a merit or above including 60% for the dissertation. If you have not completed a master’s, you’ll need to show you can produce high quality writing and analysis.


If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to complete an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to demonstrate your competence in English. Your awarded certificate needs to be dated within the last 2 years, and you’ll need all of the following scores as a minimum:

Overall 6.5

Writing 6.0

Reading 6.0

Speaking 6.0

Listening 6.0


  • Programme for Interdisciplinary Resilience Studies application document
  • Narrative résumé
  • Standardised CV
  • Academic transcripts/certificates
  • If a student-led application: research proposal document
  • Any other relevant documents (e.g., language certificate, etc)

Creative Arts & Design (9) Geography (17) History & Archaeology (19) Mathematics (25) Physics (29) Politics & Government (30) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

Up to six students will comprise each cohort. We will offer:
4 x studentship to UK (or UK-domiciled) students - fully funded for 48 months at UKRI base rates for maintenance and tuition
1 x studentship to an international student - fully funded for 48 months at UKRI maintenance and University international tuition rates
1 x “Master’s + PhD” studentship to an eligible UK (or UK-domiciled) student - fully funded for 60 months at UKRI maintenance and University tuition rates for: 12 months research master’s degree and 48 months PhD
Plus £10k (£2.5k per year) RTSG for the PhD programme.

How good is research at University of Southampton in Geography and Environmental Studies?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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