UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering


PhD in Satellite Optical Communications and Payload Processing

Fully funded PhD in Satellite Optical Communications and Payload Processing

Fully funded PhD in Satellite Optical Communications and Payload Processing

Title: A 3.5-year fully funded (home rate) PhD on “Integration of free space optical links with telecommunication satellite on-board processor” at UCL in collaboration with Airbus Defence and Space.

Project Supervisor: Dr Martyn Fice (m.fice@ucl.ac.uk).

Start date: September 2022.

How to apply:  In the first instance please email your CV, a cover letter explaining why you think you are a suitable candidate for the post, and transcripts (both undergraduate and postgraduate) to Dr Martyn Fice (m.fice@ucl.ac.uk).

Closing date for applications: 10th June 2022.

Eligibility: The studentship is subject to eligibility criteria based on UK residency. However, in certain exceptional circumstances, the studentship may be awarded to a student who does not meet the residential eligibility criteria.


We are looking for a motivated student with an interest in developing novel solutions for satellite communication, free-space optical communication and efficient data processing technologies. The use of free-space optical communication has been accepted as a way forward to increase the available spectrum bandwidth of future high throughput satellite systems. Laser communication links have been demonstrated for satellite communication, and a significant effort has been put towards developing laser communication terminals and laser modems to ensure these optical communication links are ready for use in all aerospace applications (geostationary orbit (GEO), low Earth orbit (LEO), high-altitude pseudo-satellites, aeroplanes, optical ground station (OGST)). However, less progress has so far been achieved to ensure the compatibility of laser modems operating at 100/200 Gbps per wavelength with the current or future very high throughput satellites (vHTS) equipped with on-board processors. To this end, the primary goal of this PhD project is to investigate and analyse possible vHTS payload architectures (including RF and optical links) which consist of a regenerative processor and multiple bi-directional free space optical link for OGST-GEO connectivity.


What the PhD project entails?

The student will need to learn about digitally processed satellite communication payloads to understand their operational concept. In addition, the student will need to study the architecture of 100/200 Gbps coherent optical transceivers for space and terrestrial telecom applications. The student will need to investigate the digital back-end of coherent optical transceivers (modem implementation on ASIC or FPGA), which is designed to do substantial on-board processing for the received signal BER correction to mitigate the effects caused by the atmosphere such as turbulence. DSP algorithms suitable for free-space satellite links will be investigated to allow the most power-efficient system solution while ensuring a correct layer interface between the optical coherent transceiver and the on-board processor.

The student is expected to publish the outcome of the project in top journals and conferences in the field and attend at least one national or international conference each year.

The student will be required to present the progress of the work to the industrial collaborator at least twice a year. The student is expected to spend at least 10% of their time at Airbus’ site in Stevenage to work closer with the industrial advisor of the project.

The student will work under the primary supervision of Dr Martyn Fice (www.ucl.ac.uk/electronic-electrical-engineering/people/dr-martyn-fice). The student will be part of the UCL Photonics Group and will join a diverse team of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers at the UCL Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, located in central London. Founded in 1826, UCL is one of the world's leading universities focused on research excellence and teaching.

The student will also have an industrial advisor for this project and will spend time working with the Future Communication Products Group at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK. Future Products develop systems for Telecommunications, Navigation and Earth Observation satellite payloads. In particular the focus of the team is raising the TRL of processors for routing and handling digitised RF and optical signals. Future Products pursues disruptive concepts to ensure that Airbus remains the leading European satellite manufacturer.

What is covered by this studentship?

A stipend (currently £17,609 pa) and fees at the home rate (currently £5,525 pa) for a period of 3.5 years. This studentship also covers the cost of consumables and travel expenses to attend conferences during the same period (£1200 per year). The studentship further benefits from a financial contribution by the industrial collaborator.

Although the fees are only covered at home rate (and not international rate), overseas candidates are still welcome to apply. However, they would need to fund the difference between home and overseas fees themselves and specify this in their application. Applicants should also note the residential eligibility criteria mentioned above.

More details about the stipend and fees can be found here: www.ucl.ac.uk/research-innovation-services/studentship-budgets-202122.

Person specification:

The candidate should meet the entry requirements for PhD programmes at UCL EEE detailed here: www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/entry-requirements.

Additionally, the candidate should have

  • at least an upper second-class honours degree (2:1 or equivalent qualification) in Electrical Engineering, Physics, or relevant discipline, or equivalent professional experience (e.g. telecommunications) 
  • understanding and experience of communications or networking
  • knowledge of design and analysis software tools such as C/C++, MATLAB, Python, digital signal processing
  • the ability to think independently, interpret data, and generate new ideas
  • knowledge of novel-concept feasibility study


Desirable knowledge, skills, and experience:

  • Photonics technologies, including optical communications and networking 
  • Simulation, analysis, and laboratory prototyping of communication links for digital, photonics and/or RF systems
  • Development and test of integrated circuits in semiconductor technology
  • Knowledge/experience of working with VHDL

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Martyn Fice (m.fice@ucl.ac.uk).

About UCL and the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

University College London (UCL) was founded in 1826 as the third university in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. UCL is the first university in England to admit students of any race, class, or religion, and the first to welcome women on equal terms with men. UCL is organized into 11 constituent faculties, within which there are over 100 departments, institutes, and research centres. UCL has 983 professors and more than 7000 academic staff who are dedicated to research and teaching at the highest standards. Its student community is almost 36,000, the largest in the UK. There are 29 Nobel Prize winners and three Fields medallists amongst UCL’s alumni and current and former staff. UCL is the top-rated university in the UK for research excellence (REF2014). It has a strong tradition and large knowledge base in medical research with a dedicated institute on Healthcare Engineering and 10+ hospitals. UCL has world-class support for researchers and has been voted the best place for postdoctoral researchers to work for consecutive years by The Scientist magazine. The main campus of UCL is located in central London, close to British Museum, West-End and Thames River.

The Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL was established by Professor Sir Ambrose Fleming in 1885 and has a very strong research culture, state-of-the-art research equipment and facilities, and a very rich history of many fundamental research achievements in electronic and electrical engineering. The department has received top ratings in every UK research evaluation carried out to date. 

Further information regarding UCL may be found at: www.ucl.ac.uk/.

Information about the department may be found at: www.ucl.ac.uk/electronic-electrical-engineering.

About Airbus

Airbus Space Systems' purpose is to improve life on Earth and beyond through our cutting-edge space technologies. For over 50 years we have supplied reliable systems that range from electronic components to full telecommunications relay platforms, scientific satellites and crewed spacecraft. We provide solutions for customers and their programmes around the globe.