Dr Ciara McGrath

Research Associate

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Personal statement

Originally from Ireland, I moved to the UK in 2009 to study for a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering and have since obtained a PhD in the area of Astrodynamics. I am currently a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde with specialisms in astrodynamics, space mission analysis and design, and analytical techniques.

Currently, I am investigating the use of manoeuvrable constellations of small satellites for responsive Earth observation. Such systems could provide critical satellite data on-demand during natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, for example, aiding first responders on the ground and ultimately saving lives. These agile constellations are being enabled by the “New Space” movement which has seen the industry move away from traditional large, expensive spacecraft to smaller satellites that can be produced quickly and cheaply. Scottish companies are leading this revolution, with more satellites built in Glasgow today than anywhere else in Europe.

My previous experience working with industry and the European Space Agency to design Earth observation missions has highlighted the challenges inherent in providing space data on demand. Some organisations are trying to address this by launching mega-constellations of hundreds of satellites, but this will add to our growing space debris problems. I am proposing an alternative solution. With my experience in astrodynamics and space mission design, I have developed a fast and efficient way to model large constellations of manoeuvring spacecraft and their concept of operations. These scenarios can involve many satellites with competing priorities, such as minimising fuel usage while also minimising time to data downlink. By modelling these systems using a combination of analytical manoeuvre calculation and graph theoretical techniques I hope to provide insights into a new and exciting way of operating in space. 


General perturbation method for satellite constellation deployment using nodal precession
McGrath Ciara N, Macdonald Malcolm
Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics Vol 43, pp. 814-824 (2020)
Satellite data on demand
McGrath Ciara, Dickeson Zach
VisNET Collaboration Event (2019)
Small satellite operations planning for agile disaster response using graph theoretical techniques
McGrath Ciara N, Clark Ruaridh A, Werkmeister Astrid, Macdonald Malcolm
70th International Astronautical Congress (2019)
General perturbation method for satellite constellation reconfiguration using low-thrust maneuvers
McGrath Ciara N, Macdonald Malcolm
Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics Vol 42, pp. 1676-1692 (2019)
Analysis of responsive satellite manoeuvres using graph theoretical techniques
McGrath Ciara N, Clark Ruaridh A, Macdonald Malcolm
International workshop on satellite constellations and formation flying (2019)
Applications of responsive small satellites with MIT TILE electrospray propulsion
McGrath Ciara, Macdonald Malcolm, Lozano Paulo, Miller David, Krejci David
15th Reinventing Space Conference (2017)

more publications

Professional activities

The New Peers Review podcast episode 3
The New Peers Review podcast episode 2
Using Networks for Constellation Responsiveness, Resilience, and Data Routing
"New markets: Scottish space industry grows in value to £4bn"
"Scots satellite industry could revolutionise natural disasters response"

more professional activities


Reconfigurable, Agile Spacecraft Constellation Architectures
Macdonald, Malcolm (Principal Investigator) McGrath, Ciara (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 31-Jan-2019
Doctoral Training Partnership (DTA - University of Strathclyde) | McGrath, Ciara
Macdonald, Malcolm (Principal Investigator) Vasile, Massimiliano (Co-investigator) McGrath, Ciara (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2014 - 19-Jan-2018

more projects


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
James Weir Building

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