Defence Science and Technology Group PhD Top-up scholarships


Enrolment status New students
Student type Domestic students
Level of study Higher Degree by Research
Study area Engineering and Computing
HDR funding type Top-up Scholarship
Scholarship value $10,000 per annum
Scholarship duration Up to 3 years
Number awarded 4
Opening date 29 August 2019
Closing date 31 July 2020


UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics has four PhD scholarship top-ups available for collaborative projects with the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group). The projects, detailed below, will be co-supervised by a DST scientist. The student will be based at UQ St Lucia, but will conduct their experiments at X3's new location with DST Group at Eaglefarm with DST technical support.

Projects 1 & 2: Radiation signatures

Supervisors: Professor Richard Morgan (principal) and Associate Professor Tim McIntyre (associate)

The radiation trails left behind in the shock layers and wakes of hypersonic flight vehicles are important foot prints which enable identification of the altitude, location, and direction of the vehicle, and may also be used to indicate something about their design and purpose. They may be created from radiating high temperature shock layers, and can be significantly enhanced by hot ablative products from TPS insulation and by combustion products from air breathing and rocket propelled systems.

Prediction techniques are not currently well advanced, and more experimental data and fundamental studies are needed to be able to confidently categorise and predict the signatures of specific vehicle configurations over their operational envelopes. The requirements for experimental studies include advanced hypersonic test facilities, the ability to create the associated sources of ablative and combustion products, and the instrumentation required to track the propagation and spectral intensity of radiating products in a hypersonic flowfield. The laboratories of UQ and DST are well suited to perform such a study, and have extensive expertise in the related diagnostics and instrumentation.

Project 1: The purpose of this proposed project is to perform a series of experimental investigations into these effects, focussing on ablation-driven radiating wakes.

Project 2: The purpose of this proposed project is to perform a series of experimental investigations into these effects, focussing on wake signatures produced by propulsion systems.

Interested in these projects? Read more about Professor Richard Morgan, and Associate Professor Tim McIntyre. To discuss these projects, please email Associate Professor McIntyre.

Project 3: High altitude Earth re-entry testing in a large scale expansion tube

Supervisor: Dr David Gildfind

A manned mission to Mars will see the fastest ever spacecraft return to Earth, up to 13 km/s. The engineering challenges of Earth re-entry at these speeds are still to be overcome, and suitable wind tunnel testing capabilities will be essential to fully understand the flow physics and to test new technologies at these speeds. One promising technology is magnetohydrodynamic aerobraking, which can potentially use the interaction between a magnetic field and the hot plasma enveloping the spacecraft to dissipate the spacecraft's immense kinetic energy when it first reaches the atmosphere, when speeds are a maximum but density is low enough to make heating manageable.

Australia is currently a world leader in aerodynamic ground testing of planetary entry flows, and its X2 and X3 facilities are routinely used to study Earth re-entry flows up to 11 km/s. However, neither facility can currently generate the low density part of superorbital flows associated with ambitious future missions such as deep space return from Mars or the Gas Giants. This project involves extending the test capability for X3 - the world's largest free-piston driven expansion tube - to make this testing possible.

The PhD will address several technical challenges which currently prevent this performance. X3's free-piston driver is currently limited by its piston mass; its current lightest piston, which has been structurally optimised for CNC machining from aluminium, weighs 100kg, but for these test flows the piston needs to be much lighter. This can only be achieved through structural optimisation using new manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing.

Control of piston dynamics becomes increasingly difficult as mass is reduced and acceleration increases. This PhD will develop an accelerometer diagnostics package to measure piston trajectory and thereby guide the development of new driver operating conditions. A recent prototype device has demonstrated proof-of-concept up to 2000g peak acceleration for this application; this PhD must extend this performance to 20,000g, and will examine how additional diagnostics can be integrated into the device.

Model size must be maximised, which is achieved with a nozzle expansion to the test section. However, X3's existing nozzles have not been developed for such high speeds and low densities, and a new nozzle will also be necessary to achieve the new testing capability. This capability will be verified through numerical analysis and finally experimental testing. The outcome of this project will be the world's highest performance superorbital aerodynamic test capability for deep space return re-entry.

Interested? Read more about Dr David Gildfind, or email him about this project.

Project 4: Development of high performance shock tube conditions

Supervisor: Professor Richard Morgan

The performance of high speed shock tunnels is limited by the constraints of speed, pressure, length scale, and the required test flow duration. Related to this is the scope and scale of experiments which can be performed in the facilities. Recent modifications to the X3 facility at UQ have led to new test conditions in the reflected shock tunnel mode which enable steady flow durations of the order of 10 ms to be reached with an 800 mm nozzle exit. This new operating mode, known as X3R, is currently limited to total pressures of the order of 10 MPa at Mach 7 with a 560 kg piston. This envelope can potentially be stretched to total pressures of 40 MPa and enthalpies up to the order of 6 km/s, at the expense of test time, by using lighter pistons. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the full potential operating envelope of the facility, and establish a range of calibrated operating conditions which will greatly extend our capability to do useful hypersonics research. Honours Graduates from Engineering, the Physical Sciences and Applied Mathematics all have potentially suitable backgrounds for this project. There will be a strong experimental component to the work, and students will need to have good analytical and numerical skills.

Interested? Read more about Professor Richard Morgan, or email him about this project.


To be eligible, you must

Applications are closed.

Before you get started

If this scholarship has rules, download and read them.

How to apply

To apply for admission and scholarship, follow the link on the upper right of this page. There is no separate application for scholarship because you will have the opportunity to request scholarship consideration on the application for admission.

Before submitting an application you should:

When you apply, please ensure that under the scholarships and collaborative study section you:

  1. Select ‘My higher degree is not collaborative’
  2. Select 'I am applying for, or have been awarded a scholarship or sponsorship'.
  3. Select the appropriate scholarship type, or select ‘other’ and type in ‘DSTG’ in the 'Name of scholarship' field.

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Learn more about applying for a higher degree by research at UQ

Selection criteria

  1. Must be an Australian citizen
  2. Must obtain a Commonwealth funded postgraduate scholarship
Applications are closed.


Dr David Gildfind
07 3365 3593
Applications are closed.

Terms and conditions

Read the policy on UQ Research Scholarships.

A domestic part-time student with carer’s responsibilities, a medical condition or a disability, which prevents them from studying full time may be eligible for scholarship consideration, on a case by case basis.

Applications are closed.