Investigation of non-equilibrium phenomena during giant planet entry

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.

Our giant planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, are four large gaseous planets which exist out past the asteroid belt in the middle of our solar system. Giant planets are very old planets, and it has been said that “the story of the giant planets is the story of our solar system”. Giant planets are also common in the broader universe. For these reasons, further exploration of our giant planets are very important both to understand our own solar system and the universe surrounding us. 

Due to their massive size, planetary entry conditions for giant planets are harsh and their unique hydrogen/helium atmospheres make the phenomena which a spacecraft entering their atmospheres experiences very different to that which occurs on Earth or Mars. 

The only scientific giant planet entry which has ever occurred was the Galileo probe which entered the atmosphere of Jupiter at 47.5 km/s in 1995. While its survival was a massive engineering triumph, the differences between modelling and the reality of its heat shield’s erosion during the entry showed that we still have a lot to learn about giant planet entry. 

More recently, a probe mission to one of the other giant planets has been considered. While entry in these other giant planets occurs at much more manageable speeds of 20 to 30 km/s, many unknowns still remain, and this is made harder by the inability of most hypersonic test facilities to be able to simulate these high-speed conditions.

Using our hypersonic test facilities at UQ and a test gas substitution technique which allows us to simulate giant planet entry at manageable speeds, this project will use optical analysis techniques to examine the “non-equilibrium” behaviour which occurs between the shock and the body of an entry probe for a giant planet entry mission.

This non-equilibrium behaviour is important to continue to study as large uncertainties in predicting it still exist, and it has a large effect on the heating which is experienced at the surface of a future giant planet entry vehicle. 

This project is being performed in collaboration with colleagues in Europe and the USA, and with discussions with NASA and ESA who will design a future giant planet entry probe to leave Earth in the 2030s. It is hoped that, pandemic permitting, there will be the opportunity to visit one or more partner laboratories overseas during the project. 

This project also forms part of a large project in a large collaborative research group, meaning there will ample opportunities to work with colleagues on different parts of this project as well as other related projects in our laboratory.

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 Richard Morgan

School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering


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 practical experimentation and engineering, data analysis, and programming, as well as strong problem solving, interpersonal, and written and verbal communication skills, the ability to be resilient and work both independently in a self-driven manner and as part of a team would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

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

A background or knowledge of fundamental fluid mechanics, compressible flow, high-temperature gas dynamics and basic optical physics is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2023. 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