Dr Ciara McGrath

Research Associate

Electronic and Electrical Engineering

Personal statement

My research expertise is in astrodynamics and space mission analysis and design, particularly as applied to constellations for Earth observation. I use analytical approaches, where possible, to understand space system dynamics and to generate mission designs that can meet a given set of requirements. I have developed analytical descriptions of low-thrust spacecraft manoeuvres to investigate the possibility of using future small-satellite reconnaissance constellations to provide targeted observations of regions of the Earth, as well as fast methods of satellite coverage calculation to aid rapid mission analysis. Working with colleagues at the University of Strathclyde and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I have investigated the potential for such future systems to provide vital, on-demand, responsive space data to support disaster response for forest fires and tropical storms.

At the core of my research is a desire to support people and life on Earth. Where possible, I have used my research to support organisations to make the best use of currently available space data, as well as to investigate the possible advantages of future space missions. This has included: working with Historic Environment Scotland to assess available space data suitability for archaeological site detection and condition monitoring; consulting with the Scottish Remote Sensing Working Group to establish satellite data needs to monitor and manage land-use change; and working with the University of Edinburgh to design a space lidar mission that could enhance our understanding of global biomass. Recently, work with Nith Inshore Rescue and Creative Help Ltd using satellite data to map navigable estuary channels, was shorlisted for the Copernicus Masters Prize 2020 and the E&T Innovation Awards. Testing of our developments is being undertaken by the dedicated volunteer crew at Nith Inshore Rescue, and it has already been used to rescue a pod of minke whales that had become trapped in the treacherous Solway Firth. 


Novel concept of satellite manoeuvre planning using graph theoretical techniques
McGrath Ciara N, Clark Ruaridh A, Macdonald Malcolm
Advances in Space Research Vol 67, pp. 3775-3784 (2021)
Mapping the Nation : Towards a National Land-Use Map for Scotland
McGrath Ciara, Keenan Vincent
Towards a satellite system for archaeology? Simulation of an optical satellite mission with ideal spatial and temporal resolution, illustrated by a case study in Scotland
McGrath Ciara N, Scott Charlie, Cowley Dave, Macdonald Malcolm
Remote Sensing Vol 12 (2020)
Mobile target tracking using a reconfigurable low earth orbit constellation
Morgan Sarah J, McGrath Ciara, De Weck Olivier L
Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery Conference, ASCEND 2020 (2020)
Mapping of shifting tidal estuaries to support inshore rescue
McGrath Ciara N, Clark Ruaridh A, Ilioudis Christos, Gibbons Gwilym, McKee David, Clemente Carmine, Macdonald Malcolm
SPIE Remote Sensing, 2020 (2020)
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)

More publications

Professional activities

6th Federated and Fractionated Satellite Systems Workshop
From Whales to Rainforests: Why Space Mission Design Matters
Invited speaker
Mentor in the UKSEDS Mentorship Program
Six ways satellites make the world a better place
Academic Advisor for StrathSEDS in the MACH-21 CanSat Competition
Satellites looking into our past: Historic Times speaks to Ciara McGrath

More professional activities


eXtended Satellite Production And Constellation Operations
Macdonald, Malcolm (Principal Investigator) McLaughlin, Graeme (Co-investigator) Clark, Ruaridh (Research Co-investigator) Lowe, Christopher (Research Co-investigator) McGrath, Ciara (Research Co-investigator)
04-Jan-2020 - 03-Jan-2023
Safe Passage – the shifting sands of the Solway Firth
McGrath, Ciara (Principal Investigator) Clark, Ruaridh (Co-investigator) Macdonald, Malcolm (Academic)
Innovation Voucher project with Creative Help Ltd to develop tidal channel mapping services using satellite imagery.
18-Jan-2020 - 12-Jan-2021
Mapping the Nation: Towards a National Land-Use Map for Scotland
McGrath, Ciara (Principal Investigator) Keenan, Vincent (Principal Investigator)
Climate change; urban sprawl; habitat destruction. Our world is changing before our eyes – and we need to start watching.
Organisations are trying to monitor and manage our rapidly changing world. Scottish Forestry are expanding forests to battle climate change with almost 22 million trees planted in the last 12-months. Scottish Natural Heritage are creating a Habitat Map of Scotland’s unique biodiversity. At the University of Strathclyde, researchers are predicting threats to Scottish plant life.
Scotland is also at the centre of Europe’s “New Space” revolution. With more satellites built in Glasgow than anywhere else in Europe, we have more eyes-in-the-sky than ever before.
Our research vision is to harness this newly abundant space data to create a Scottish National Land-Use Map, allowing government, charities, and researchers to better monitor, manage, and protect our rapidly changing environment.
01-Jan-2020 - 31-Jan-2021
Satellite data for Condition monitoring & Archaeological Rapid Assessment
McGrath, Ciara (Principal Investigator) Werkmeister, Astrid (Researcher) Macdonald, Malcolm (Academic) Cowley, Dave (Co-investigator)
SCARA is supported through the PLANET ESA Third Party Missions Programme.

This project will assess the suitability of SkySat and PlanetScope imagery for a) detection of buried archaeological and cultural heritage sites, for b) monitoring the condition of known archaeological assets and for c) land-use change assessment on a national scale. The suitability of the data will be assessed in terms of frequency of coverage, the ease and accuracy with which proxy indicators of archaeological features (such as crop and soil marks) can be identified, and the ease and accuracy with which land-use changes which have particular implications for cultural heritage sites can be determined. Scotland will be used as a trial region, with the understanding that the developed methodology could be applied to other regions with similar climates, land-use and geology.
01-Jan-2020 - 28-Jan-2021
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