Abstract Guide

Every year, the British Interplanetary Society run the UK selection for the International Astronautical Congress Student Paper Competition. Two winners are selected (one Undergraduate and one Postgraduate) to represent the UK internationally at the IAC. The BIS also provide generous financial support for travel to the IAC which is held in a different country each year. In 2018, the IAC meeting will be held between 01-05 September in Bremen, Germany. The competition will be open for entries until Friday 27 April, and you can read full competition details here.

To enter the competition, all you need to do is write a short abstract describing a project or piece of work you have undertaken. For many people, this is the first time they will be submitting an Abstract to a conference of competition and so UKSEDS is here to help! Ciara McGrath and Robert Garner, past Executive Committee Members of UKSEDS, won the Undergraduate competition in 2014 and Postgraduate Competition in 2016 respectively and they have put together this handy advice on how to write a great abstract. You can read their winning abstracts below.

What is an Abstract?

An abstract is a brief summary of the most important aspects of your work. It should include your motivation for the work, a brief description of what you have done, and any results, or expected results, from your work. It should also highlight the most important feature of your work: what is new, unique or exciting about what you are doing? The key feature of an abstract is that it should be completely understandable all on its own. That means it shouldn’t include any references, or referencing sections of the actual paper.

What if I haven’t finished my project yet?

This is totally fine! You can still include your motivation for your work and a description of what you have done to date. You can also include any preliminary results you might have. You should also include what you plan to do in the future of the project and what results you expect to find in the end. This doesn’t mean you need to guess the numbers, but you should state what you are looking for. For example, you might hope to find out how much CO2 a space plane would produce going from London to Australia, or how long it would take to get to Pluto using a solar sail. Those would be expected results.

Ok, so how do I write a good abstract?

    1. Get the basics right. Good spelling, grammar and punctuation is as important as ever. Also, an abstract should never include any acronyms or symbols – write out whatever it is in words instead. The tone should be professional and formal.
    2. Keep your title short and sweet. It should still accurately describe your project but try to keep it to 8 words or less.
    3. Grab the reader’s attention right from the start. Try to highlight the key novelty or importance of your work in the very first line. You can then go on to describe the motivation and background, but it’s good to establish right from the start what it is you’re doing and why it’s amazing!
    4. The body of the abstract: After your opening line, briefly put the work into context. Tell the reader why your work is important, and what could it be used for. Next summarise the work you have done. Did you use simulations? Analytical models? Experiments? Remember you will be able to give details in the full paper later – this should just be a brief overview of the work. Finally, list the key results of your work and any conclusions you can draw from them. If possible relate this back to your motivation.
    5. Remember your audience! You may be used to writing reports for your supervisor, but the people who will be reading your abstract are probably not going to be experts on the topic you are writing about. They could be electrical engineers, astronomers, biologists, educators, or even enthusiasts. Be clear in what you are trying to say. Don’t use overly technical terms or go into too much detail. Imagine you are trying to explain your work to a 1st year University student.
    6. Make them want more! Really the key purpose of an abstract is to help people decide if they want to sit down and read the entire paper – so try to make it interesting for the reader. What are the potential impacts of your work on life as we know it? We know you’re probably very proud of that one fantastically complicated equation you derived, or the hours you spent building that intricate optimisation routine – and there’ll be plenty of time in the paper to discuss those amazing things – but for now, try to avoid too much detail and instead focus on the bigger picture.


Ciara McGrath

University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom

Solar sail propelled missions to a polar orbit of the Sun offer unique science opportunities. Previous proposals have recommended the use of a 2-phase transfer to reach a solar polar orbit, however a 3-phase transfer has since been shown to offer a significant reduction in the transfer time at the expense of higher thermal stresses. The 3-phase transfer involves spiralling in close to the Sun, performing a rapid inclination increase, and spiralling back out to the final target orbit. A general perturbation solution for such a transfer has been defined which offers significant advantages over the numerically optimised solutions currently available. The insights provided by this analytical solution are used here to rapidly generate a holistic understanding of the mission architecture options available and hence how the mission and system design could be traded. A number of potential science missions are identified which could benefit uniquely from the use of such an orbit. These require that a solar latitude of 60° be achieved within 5 years before proceeding to a true polar orbit. A comparison between the use of the 2- and 3-phase transfer options identify that in real terms, the 3-phase transfer will reach a polar orbit approximately 1 year ahead of the 2-phase transfer. In addition, the increased efficiency of the transfer would allow for an increase in the allowable payload mass; with up to an extra 33kg payload potential predicted. Further work should allow for the mission and system design to be traded; for example to investigate the implications of increased thermal system mass (due to a reduction in the minimum solar approach distance) against reduced transfer time or sail size.


Robert Garner

University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom

Reusable, single-stage-to-orbit lifting body aircraft or spaceplanes have been proposed as a revolutionary advance in space access. Recent advances have significantly reduced the technological barrier in the development of these vehicles. An example of this is the Reaction Engines Skylon vehicle. This paper compares the emissions of current expendable launch vehicles (ELV) with future reusable spaceplanes. Their unique flight trajectory and novel propulsion systems are completely different to those used in the expendable launch vehicles of today and other advanced launch systems, such as the space shuttle. The effect on the environment is now a major contributor to potential drivers and obstacles in the development of a new technology, and spaceplanes are no different. An investigation into the effect of this new operating paradigm and technology is important to identify roadblocks in the development or the business case of the vehicles.

The trajectory for an example ELV, in this case the Delta IV rocket, is obtained from the performance data given in the user manual by the manufacturer. The flight path and control law for the spaceplane is generated using a trajectory optimisation tool. The emission examined in this study is water. Water is an important greenhouse gas, with well-known effects on the environment and is produced by the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen. The Delta IV rocket was chosen because it has two variants which only use hydrogen and LOX. The fuel emissions of both vehicles are based upon complete combustion of the hydrogen and oxygen that is available for combustion. Most rockets run fuel rich, so it is assumed that this additional fuel is not involved in the combustion. The emissions are integrated across the entire trajectory and analysed in terms of the altitude profile of released emissions. The resultant emissions profiles are also normalized against the final payload mass to orbit. The analysis doesn’t take into account the mission events such as stage burnup or splashdown, and rockets with solid rocket boosters were not considered. The methodology generated for this study will be extended to other propellants, such as Kerosene and solid fuels, as well as other vehicle and mission types (two-stage to orbit systems, hypersonic vehicles). This technique will provide valuable feedback in the early decision making phases for choices on reusability, trajectory planning, vehicle design and propellant combinations.