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Scholarship details

2024 RTP round - Low Cost Navigation for Small Lunar Missions

Status: Closed

Applications open: 7/07/2023
Applications close: 25/08/2023

View printable version [.pdf]

About this scholarship

The Space Science and Technology Centre at Curtin University is building highly capable small spacecraft within its Binar Space Program. Our first spacecraft, Binar-1, which trialed our ultra-compact spacecraft platform was launched in October 2021, and we’re currently building the next three spacecraft, Binar-2, Binar-3 and Binar-4, for launch in the first half of 2024. This will be followed by Binar Prospector Pathfinder in low Earth orbit and Binar Prospector science mission in low Lunar orbit. 

The future Binar Prospector spacecraft are in a uniquely low orbit, close to the lunar surface. There is the opportunity to equip these (and other) spacecraft with the capability to take data from scientific sensors, most notably images, attitude control sensor results and illumination information, and fuse this data with predictions, to improve orbit determination and control. This outcome will further generate new scientific results by enhancing the spatial precision of the mission’s primary dataset: Lunar magnetometry. 

The aim of this research project is to investigate the viability of a sensor fusion based approach to either real-time on board navigation or offline orbit reconstruction for future small (<50 kg) Lunar orbiters. If successful, this approach will lead to enhancements in scientific return, and improved mission capabilities. The results of this work will be applicability to other small and lower-cost Lunar obiters beyond the Binar Space Program. 

In order to determine the viability of the approach, the research will start by building an orbit determination model based on traditional ground-segment based (range and range rate) orbit determination. The investigation will then focus on the suite of additional data sources available (including illumination, optical imagers, horizon sensors, star trackers) and modelling the additional certainty they can add to the orbital and position estimates, either in an online real-time implementation for navigation or an offline after the fact implementation for improved orbit reconstruction for science data. 

To build and demonstrate system for improving scientific capabilities of small satellites in Earth and Moon, by improving navigation capabilities, to a) reduce team costs, b) reduce complexity of ground-spacecraft control loop, c) enable more science by better positional awareness, control and capability 

Ground stations capable of conducting orbit determination and communications for Lunar spacecraft are tightly constrained and highly specialised resource and will be a significant bottleneck for robotic planetary missions to the Moon and beyond in the near to medium term. The operations costs associated with the ground segment time required for accurate orbit reconstruction or to operate at low altitudes are also a significant fraction of a mission budget. 

Navigation or orbit reconstruction approaches that do not rely on orbit determination via the ground segment would unlock this bottleneck to allow humanity to operate more space exploration missions beyond Earth orbit which will be important as the Moon is now within reach for small spacecraft developers. 

This project may provide an internship opportunity. This project may present and opportunity to complete and internship at one of SSTC's industry partners or to apply for a competitive internship project with NASA.

  • Future Students
  • Faculty of Science & Engineering
    • Engineering courses
  • Higher Degree by Research
  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa
  • Merit Based

The annual scholarship package (stipend and tuition fees) is approx. $60,000 - $70,000 p.a.

Successful HDR applicants for admission will receive a 100% fee offset for up to 4 years, stipend scholarships at the 2023 RTP rate valued at $32,250 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3 years, with a possible 6-month completion scholarship. Applicants are determined via a competitive selection process and will be notified of the scholarship outcome in November 2023. 

For detailed information, visit: Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarships | Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Scholarship Details


All applicable HDR courses

This project is ideal for an applicant interested in extending the capabilities of small spacecraft (CubeSats) with a keen interest in sensor specification and technologies, and data handling. The suitable applicant will be a self-motivated candidate with excellent communication and teamwork skills who understands the bigger picture. The suitable applicant is likely to have a background in mathematics, data science, planetary science, physics or engineering. The applicant should have achieved first-class honours in a relevant undergraduate degree and be able to demonstrate experience conducting a successful project. 

Application process

If this project excites you, and your research skills and experience are a good fit for this specific project, you should contact the Project Lead (listed below in the enquires section) via the Expression of Interest (EOI) form. ahead of the closing date. Please note you should apply as soon as possible, as once a suitable candidate has been identified this opportunity will no longer be available to receive an EOI.

Enrolment Requirements

Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2024.

Recipients must complete their milestone 1 within 6 months of enrolment and remain enrolled on a full-time basis for the duration of the scholarship.


To enquire about this project opportunity that includes a scholarship application, contact the Project lead, Phil Bland via the EOI form above.

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