Hypersonic Air-Breathing Electric Propulsion: Plasma Fuel Engines

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

UQ has been awarded an ARC Linkage Project to experimentally and computationally investigate the performance of Plasma Fuel Engines (PFEs) - air-breathing hypersonic propulsion systems utilising electromagnetic acceleration of a plasma to generate thrust. This approach could eliminate the physical limitations of current engines such as scramjets and enable flight within the atmosphere at speeds greater than three kilometres per second, or 10,000 kilometres per hour. The PFE is a new technology based on a Hall or magnetoplasmadynamic thruster concept applied to a hypersonic air-breathing engine.

There are three PhD topics planned as part of this Linkage Project, one of which will be supported by this UQ Earmarked PhD scholarship. The topics include the following:

  1. Experimental Investigation of Plasma Fuel Engine Performance
  2. Advanced Diagnostics for Plasma Fuel Engine Ground Testing
  3. Multi-Fluid Computational Investigation of Plasma Fuel Engines

The objective of PhD topic 1 is to experimentally investigate the performance of a model PFE over a wide range of operating parameters through shock tunnel testing. The outcomes will be an understanding of how PFE performance depends on flight speed, altitude, ionization fraction and electromagnetic field strengths. The objective of PhD topic 2 is to develop and implement novel diagnostics capable of measuring key flow properties within a PFE model during shock tunnel testing. The use of non-intrusive measurement techniques such as tuned diode laser absorption spectroscopy (TDLAS), emission spectroscopy, pyrometry and pressure sensitive paint within this challenging environment will be explored. The outcomes are intended to be a significant advance in diagnostic capabilities for partially ionized, magnetized, short-duration hypersonic flows leading to a more detailed understanding PFE flow physics and performance. Finally, the objective of topic 3 is to develop the capability accurately simulate the flow physics within a PFE and validate this against experimental data produced in the broader project. This will require further development of the Centre for Hypersonics multi-fluid plasma simulation capability within the AMReX adaptive mesh refinement framework.  The simulation results will be used to gain new insights into the details of PFE operation.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)


Professor Vincent Wheatley

School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering

Email: v.wheatley@uq.edu.au

Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of fluid mechanics, physics, experimental methods and numerical methods would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of aerospace engineering, fluid mechanics or physics and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of electromagnetism and computational fluid mechanics is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 2, 2025. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process