Advanced deployable structures for space flight

The development of lightweight and stowable memory-materials for deployment in space flight as structural composites.

Start date

1 October 2020


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

The University of Surrey and AWE

Funding information

3.5 years of stipend and fees paid. Stipend of £17,000.


The objective of this project is to produce a lightweight, stowable memory-material for deployment in vacuum (i.e. space) to form a general “rigid” composite structure. Once a general structure has been established, the project focus of the project will be the consideration of the option to use the structure as a platform for additional technology (e.g. chemical, electrical, thermal, communication).

The area of high strain composites, especially as applied to flexible composite structures in deployable devices, has been of interest to the aerospace community over the last five years, or so. These structures are frequently used in antennas, or for deploying electronic devices. This means it is often necessary to embed conductors in them, bringing a range of manufacturing challenges. Using carbon fibres is a challenge because the fibres themselves are somewhat conductive, and can interfere with signals, although the benefits from a stiffness and dimensional stability point of view are considerable.

It is possible, in principle, to use the composite itself as the conductor, but carbon by itself is not quite good enough a conductor for most applications. One existing process for producing carbon fibre antennas makes use of fabric lightly coated in nickel in either an evaporation or sputter-coating process. However, it is also possible to increase the conductivity by lightly loading the resin with multiwall carbon nanotubes (MWCNT), which has the added advantage of potentially allowing conductive paths to be built into the composite.

Another potential application of this kind of approach is the triggering of self-deployment of the composite via resistive heating by passing a current through selectively conductive regions. The deployment could be achieved using strain energy of embedded elements within the composite and heating the surrounding matrix above its glass transition temperature or with a shape memory polymer as the composite matrix.

Related links

MiNMaT (Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies)

Students will spend a lot of time with the sponsor who is based at Barry, near Cardiff South Wales.

Eligibility criteria

This project requires a first, upper second, or merit at masters in a physical sciences subject.

UK or EU students only. Please note we are not funded for international students.

IELTS: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with at least 7.0 in the writing component and at least 6.0 in the other components.

How to apply

Please contact the Centre Manager, Noelle Hartley, in the first instance to lodge an expression of interest in the project.

The Centre does not accept direct applications – it is important to contact the Centre Manager to discuss your interest at the earliest opportunity.

This project is part of the EPSRC CDT in MiNMaT.

References are taken up at interview stage.

Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies (MiNMaT)

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Application deadline

Contact details

Noelle Hartley
05 AB 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 683467

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