Dr Ciara McGrath

Research Associate

Electronic and Electrical 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. 


Novel concept of satellite manoeuvre planning using graph theoretical techniques
McGrath Ciara N, Clark Ruaridh A, Macdonald Malcolm
Advances in Space Research (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)
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)

More publications

Professional activities

Guest on theGIST Podcast 29: Dear world… (TEDxUofG 2020)
TEDx University of Glasgow
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"

More professional activities


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