Magnetohydrodynamic Aerobraking for Spacecraft Re-entry to Earth's Atmosphere

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's Centre for Hypersonics was recently awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant to study Magnetohydrodynamic Aerobraking for spacecraft atmospheric entry to Earth. A spaceship returning from Mars will undergo unprecedented aerodynamic heating as it enters Earth's atmosphere. Magnetohydroynamic (MHD) aerobraking involves applying a strong magnetic field to the plasma which forms around the spacecraft at these speeds, theoretically protecting it by reducing structural heat loads and enabling less severe flight trajectories. Our research aims to experimentally study this technology for Earth return from deep space, and it is significant because it will evaluate a new mechanism for managing the tremendous heat loads of planetary entry. The expected outcome and benefit will be development of a new technology to reduce spacecraft heating, leading to safer, more efficient, and potentially reusable spacecraft.

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

  1. MHD drag measurement (experimental)
  2. MHD surface heat flux and shock layer characterisation (experimental)
  3. Zeeman effect on radiating hypersonic flows (experimental/numerical)
  4. CFD modelling of MHD flows (numerical)

This project is an international collaboration between Australia and Japan to advance MHD aerobraking technology. The experiments will be performed on UQ's X2 and X3 free-piston driven expansion tubes, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's HEK-X facility at Kakuda. This is a great opportunity for the successful student to develop expertise in: spacecraft ground testing using the world's fastest aerodynamic test facilities; state-of-the-art diagnostic and numerical techniques; and to play a role in developing a potentially ground-breaking future spacecraft heat mitigation technology.

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)


Dr David Gildfind

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

A background or knowledge of electromagnetism and optics is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 4, 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