Space Engineering PHD

Why choose this course

The Surrey Space Centre (SSC) is the largest UK academic centre for space engineering research. With a host of expert academics and close links with industries, SSC offers the ideal research environment for the next generation of space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

As a PhD candidate within the Centre, you will work alongside academics, postdoctorate researchers and fellow postgraduate researchers, as they push the boundaries of low-cost small satellites and develop new innovative technologies. You will also benefit from the Centre’s strong academic-industrial strategic partnership with both Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) and Airbus DS.

Throughout your research you will have access to our world-class academic research facilities, covering advanced multidisciplinary small satellite and space system engineering techniques for Earth orbit and interplanetary space; innovative communications, remote sensing, robotics and space science payloads for small satellites; and enabling technologies for low-cost space exploitation and planetary exploration.

Following completion of your PhD you will able to apply for membership with the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), Chartered Engineer status with the Engineering Council UK and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

What you will study

Postgraduate researchers are registered for a maximum four year period of full-time study. After twelve months you write a confirmation report, which is assessed by two independent examiners. You will submit a written PhD thesis after a minimum three years of full-time study. A detailed evaluation of progress and future research plans is made every six months to ensure that progress towards completion of the PhD remains satisfactory.

You will be allocated two Surrey-based academic supervisors, in addition to any external collaborative supervisors. Your principal supervisor will be an expert in your area of research and will be in charge of monitoring your research progress. The supervisors will help you to define the initial objective and scope of your research, and to refine these as the project evolves. They will direct you to resources to help you learn the necessary experimental, theoretical or computing skills and will advise you on the completion of your PhD and the content of your thesis. External collaborative supervisors are appointed in many cases, in order to contribute specific expertise or facilitate access to resources or organisations.

Your office space will be located at the Surrey Space Centre building and you will typically share office alongside researchers with related research interests. As a PhD student you will be assigned to a research group which includes a team of academics, postdoctoral researchers, guest scientists and fellows.

Many areas of research at SSC are inter-disciplinary and you are likely to have the opportunity to collaborate with scientists at universities, research establishments, and industries around the world. If your PhD project is collaborative it may involve travel for meetings with collaborators and access to specialised facilities.

SSC monthly seminars are open to all postgraduate researchers. You will get an opportunity to attend presentations by each research group and all PGRs are expected to present their individual research on the day of their group’s presentation. In addition to these internal seminars, there are regular opportunities to attend invited lectures, by renowned external speakers, organised by different research centres and departments within our Faculty.

Furthermore, you will be able to meet other researchers, academics, and other staff at informal PGR forum meetings, and get involved in organising the PGR conference, social or other events.

Course facts

Qualification Study mode Course length Start date
PHD Full-time 48 months October 2018
PHD Part-time 96 months January 2019
PHD Part-time 96 months October 2018
PHD Full-time 48 months April 2018
PHD Full-time 48 months July 2018
PHD Part-time 96 months April 2018
PHD Part-time 96 months July 2018

Additional costs

There are additional costs that you can expect to incur when studying at Surrey. Find out more.

Code of practice for research degrees

Surrey’s postgraduate research code of practice sets out the University's policy and procedural framework relating to research degrees.

The code defines a set of standard procedures and specific responsibilities covering the academic supervision, administration and assessment of research degrees for all faculties within the University.

Download the code of practice for research degrees (PDF).

Research themes

  • Clean room
  • Nanosatellite/CubeSat laboratory
  • Satellite Mission Operation Centre
  • Plasma and propulsion laboratory
  • Surrey Technology for Autonomous Systems and Robotics (STAR) Laboratory
  • Autonomous systems laboratory
  • Medical robotics laboratory
  • Space optics laboratory
  • Realistic Radiation Environment Facility (REEF)
  • Structural dynamics laboratory

In addition to the above dedicated facilities within SSC, we also have access to all University of Surrey facilities for manufacturing and testing.

Our academic staff

See a full list of all our academic staff within the Surrey Space Centre.

Research facilities

Our nine research themes cover a range of topics including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Astrodynamics
  2. Autonomy and robotics
  3. Environments and instrumentation
  4. On-Board data handing
  5. Plasma propulsion
  6. Remote sensing applications
  7. Robotics and control
  8. Space environments and protection
  9. Space structures, material and mechanisms

Other activities, such as space debris removal, solar sails, and nanosatellite mission development, are being carried out across multiple research groups.   

Entry requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a first or upper-second class degree in a relevant discipline (or equivalent overseas qualification), or a lower second plus a good Masters degree (distinction normally required).

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.

View the other English language qualifications that we accept.

If you do not currently meet the level required for your programme, we offer intensive pre-sessional English language courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here. The University of Surrey is also an IELTS test centre.

Selection process

Selection is based on applicants meeting the expected entry requirements, assessment of application, successful interview and suitable references where required.

Students are initially registered for a PhD with probationary status and, subject to satisfactory progress, subsequently confirmed as having PhD status.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Oversees fees
Full-time October 2018 £4,260 £20,800
Part-time January 2019 £2,130 £10,400
Part-time October 2018 £2,130 £10,400
Full-time April 2018 £4,195 £20,000
Full-time July 2018 £4,195 £20,000
Part-time April 2018 £2,100 £10,000
Part-time July 2018 £2,100 £10,000

For fees payable in 2018/19, these will increase by 4 per cent, rounded up to the nearest £100 for subsequent years of study. Any start date other than October will attract a pro-rata fee for that year of entry (75 per cent for January, 50 per cent for April and 25 per cent for July).

Overseas students applying for 2018 entry should note that annual fees will rise by 4% rounded up to the nearest £100.

View a complete list of all fees for our research programmes.


We have a host of partly and fully-funded studentship opportunities available.

Adaptive communication modelling using software defined radio

Funding information:
The funding is available for 3 years for a total amount of £18,491 p.a. for home and EU applicants. This is made up of a bursary (£14,296) and fees (£4,195) per annum, pro rata and will be increased every year to cover the cost of both fees and bursary up to a total of three years.

Development of novel radiation-grafted powder ionomers for use in high performance alkali membrane fuel cells

Funding information:
Funding status: Directly Funded Project (European/UK Students only) EU/UK  fees for 3 years: 2018-19 level £4195 Standard stipend for 3 years: 2017-18 level £14,553 £5k bench fees across three-year project

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