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PhD Studentship - The investigation of the physical phenomena of porous electrospray propulsion devices for micro and nano satellites

School of Engineering

Location:  Highfield Campus
Closing Date:  Monday 31 August 2020
Reference:  1246520DA

Supervisor:                 Dr Charlie Ryan

Co-supervisor             Professor John Shrimpton

Project description

Typical high performance electric propulsion options for large satellites, such as gridded ion thrusters or Hall Effect thrusters, do not work well for nano satellites. Their efficiency falls considerably when scaled to the low power requirements of these smaller satellites, and in particular at the very low powers available on a CubeSat

Electrospray thrusters are an alternative form of electric propulsion for smaller satellites. They operate through the extraction of charged particles from a liquid contained within a porous structure, through the application of a high electric field. As well as extracting the ions, the electric field accelerates them to a high velocity, resulting in a high specific impulse from a small device. This results in them being highly applicable to nano satellites; for example the leading company within the CubeSat propulsion sector ( is using electrospray technology.

This PhD studentship follows on from the successful development of a prototype porous electrospray thruster at Southampton as illustrated in Figure 1. This has been successfully demonstrated to emit solely ions, at a quantity greater than other similar thrusters. Why it emits ions, when other similar thrusters emit some proportion of droplets, and why at an order of magnitude larger flow rate remains though unclear. Generally within the field, there remains some outstanding questions as to the emission processes within these electrospray devices.

The aim of this PhD studentship is to investigate the fundamental physical operation of this electrospray thruster, providing some insight, and to attempt to answer some of these questions. This will be through simulations complemented by analytical models, and through experiments focused on the investigation of the operation of the device. The simulations will be completed using either in-house code or OpenFOAM and will evaluate Euler vs. Lagrangian simulations of the charge particle emission. The experimental work will focus on using diagnostic equipment to analyse the charged particle emission process, such as Faraday probes, retarding potential analysers, ExB Wien filters, and other novel techniques. The operation of the thruster on other ionic liquids to emit charged droplets will be investigated, and the effect on the beam estimated using simulation.

The PhD will be supervised by Dr Charlie Ryan, and Professor John Shrimpton.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr Charlie Ryan, Astronautics Research Group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 3881.

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent).

Closing date: applications should be received no later than 31 August 2020 for standard admissions, but later applications may be considered depending on the funds remaining in place.

Funding: full tuition fees for EU/UK students plus for UK students, an enhanced stipend of £15,285 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years. 

How To Apply

Applications should be made online, please select the academic session 2020-21 “PhD Eng & Env (Full time)” as the programme. Please enter Charlie Ryan under the proposed supervisor.

Applications should include

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online:

For further information please contact: 

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