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PhD Opportunities Open for Applications *CLOSED*

These PhD opportunities are now closed: 

Development and validation of innovative, near real-time analytical tools to enable mitigation of contamination within cleanrooms of the UK spacecraft & satellite industry

Project Highlights:

  • Opportunity to develop expertise in cutting edge volatile organic compound detection and analysis for contamination detection.
  • Opportunity to develop skills in analytical techniques, contamination control, and materials and process (M&P) protocols within the space sector.
  • This industrial CASE studentship is a collaboration between The Open University (OU) and Airbus Defence and Space Ltd (Airbus DS) providing both academic and industrial research experience.


The STFC Industrial CASE (Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology) studentship provides a 3.5-year stipend that allows the student to spend periods of time on placement at Airbus DS in Stevenage, UK. The cumulative placement period will be no less than 9 months but this will be spread over the period of the studentship and will not normally exceed 18 months.

Protecting the space environment is a critical 21st century challenge to ensure the space sector remains environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. For those that manufacture space and satellite equipment, contamination resulting from surfaces, people and materials is a particular problem that is poorly understood but could have serious adverse impacts on extra-terrestrial environments. 

Many materials used in the manufacture of spacecraft, particularly those used for bonding, are silicone-based. This is because they are easy to use, work well in a large range of temperatures, have good adhesion and are UV and ozone resistant.  Certain silicones emit low levels of volatile gases. However, in the space environment, there are both thermal and vacuum effects that increase outgassing of certain compounds that can settle on sensitive equipment causing parts, such as lenses, to become contaminated and image quality to be reduced. If they are deposited on equipment that lands on a celestial body, this could contaminate other natural environments, including those that might be habitable.  

This studentship builds on a successful Open University/Airbus DS STFC Impact Accelerator Account project (scheme can be found online) and will apply a novel approach to volatile analysis within space sector cleanrooms.

The aims of this studentship are:

  1. To identify, profile and catalogue volatile, semi-volatile and surface organic compounds in cleanrooms and understand the influence of VOCs on bonding, and cleaning methodologies.
  2. To develop techniques, in partnership with the Airbus technical team, to help identify individual contamination compounds, and assess risk of silicone contamination vs cure.
  3. To develop analytical strategies to then deal with real time contamination events.
  4. To develop and optimise analytical methods for flight hardware, cleanroom surfaces and air

Applications should include:

For more details visit the OU Vacancies Page

Applications for this PhD studentship should be sent to  by 12pm (noon) on 29th January 2024



An experimental approach to study the alteration of Venusian surface materials


The majority of Venus’ surface consists of basaltic rocks, which are in contact with a hot caustic atmosphere. At these conditions, chemical reactions between the basaltic crust and the atmosphere are expected to alter the venusian surface mineralogy and composition2 . However, without the presence of liquid water, weathering is mostly restricted to oxidation reactions, which are currently not well understood for venusian surface conditions. Better constraints on the alteration mineralogy and the oxidation rate are needed to determine the ages of lava flows and to contribute to the characterisation of the mineralogy and chemistry of the venusian surface such as near infrared (NIR) emissivity spectra, which will be used by the upcoming ESA EnVision and NASA VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy) missions to map the venusian surface.

This project will use an experimental approach to constrain surface alteration of mafic minerals and basalt under venusian conditions, which is crucial to understand geological processes on Venus including the question whether Venus is still volcanically active. These new constraints on the character and rate of alteration will provide an important new data set in preparation for the upcoming Venus missions.

In detail the project will seek to:

  1. Run high-temperature alteration experiments simulating Venus’ surface conditions (~470 °C, 90 bar) with a CO2 only gas headspace composition using the AstrobiologyOU static reactors. The starting materials will be selected mafic minerals such as olivine and clinopyroxene and basaltic rocks or glasses that are compositionally similar to those measured on the venusian surface.
  2. Modify the experimental set-up to include minor amounts of H2O (~30 ppm) and/or SO2 (~150 ppm) to better reflect the trace gas composition of the Venusian atmosphere.
  3. Characterise the alteration mineralogy of the experimental runs using a range of analytical techniques including scanning electron microscopy, electron microprobe, RAMAN and near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy.

The two sets of simulation experiments and detailed analyses of the samples will be used to determine the alteration products and differences in reaction rates for various starting materials reflecting differences in venusian atmospheric composition.

Applications should include:

  • a completed Application form UK if you are classed as a home student, or Application form non-UK if you are an international student.
  • an up to date CV.
  • a list of individual courses taken and grades obtained.
  • a personal statement.
  • any other relevant information that you think may support your case for consideration.

Applications for this PhD studentship should be sent to by 25th January 2024

For more information visit the SPS website: PS5