A space shuttle taking off

Aerospace engineering

Advancing efficient and effective aerospace systems

We tackle fundamental challenges in aerospace engineering, from advanced composite structures, hybrid propulsion systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and new control algorithms to complete satellite systems.

We're home to exceptional research engineers who have consistently progressed the design, analysis and operation of flight and space vehicle systems.

Partnering with national and international government agencies and industries, we combine our unique multidisciplinary capabilities to develop complete aerospace systems that address current and future challenges in security, defence, commercial aviation, agriculture, environmental monitoring and space exploration.

Our research is supported through prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) grants and numerous ongoing research and consultancy projects with industry and government/defence partners.

We're also part of the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre and the new Australian Research Council Training Centre for CubeSats, UAVs & their Applications (CUAVA).

Our research

Our experts: Professor Liyong Tong, Emeritus Professor Grant Steven, Dr Gareth Vio

Our work with aerospace structures and materials includes analysis, design and manufacturing. In relation to structures, we focus on development of efficient and effective methods for large and multi-scale numerical simulation including optimisation and composite structures. In particular, we concentrate on structural connections, repairs, shape, vibration control and health monitoring.

Our expertise in materials ranges from nanoscale fabrication such as carbon fibre and carbon nanotubes grafting, to characterisation of magnetic field-driven shape memory alloys and three-dimensional reinforced composites. 

Our experts: Professor Ben Thornber, Emeritus Professor Graeme Bird, Dr Gareth Vio

Our collaborators: Glasgow University

Industry partners: Defence Science and Technology Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Moog Ltd

We conduct world-renowned research into very high order methods for compressible turbulent flows with a focus on turbulence, aeroacoustics and mixing. We led the pioneering development of the Direct Simulation Monte Carlo approach under Emeritus Professor Graeme Bird.

Our research reveals that fundamental challenges exist in computational fluid flow in aerospace applications, associated with the typical high-speed and large-scale objects. This leads to highly turbulent flow fields with thin, yet incredibly important, boundary layers.

Our computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research focuses on three key core competencies: improved CFD algorithms;  improved understanding of the underlying physics; and improved computational models of complex problems. These are crucial for the global aerospace industry.

Highlights in these competencies include the development of new fully compressible methods, able to resolve turbulent fluctuations at low Mach. These methods permit accurate computations of flows, involving both high and low-speed components, such as flow separations, recirculation and flows in wheel bays or weapons bays.

In collaboration with our partners, we are working on advanced models of rotor blades to assist helicopters in approaching the flight deck of Royal Australian Navy vessels. These models are an order of magnitude faster than existing approaches and aim to enable accurate assessments of the safety of approaches under different weather and operational conditions.

Our low Mach fully-compressible solvers enable us to address challenges in aeroacoustics, through ongoing research collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover. We have developed novel RANS-LES approaches that permit the computation of automotive aeroacoustics at a practical Reynolds number. In addition, through collaboration with Moog Ltd, we have undertaken analysis and design of kilo newton- (kN) sized apogee engines. 

Our experts: Professor Ben Thornber, Associate Professor Dries Verstraete, Dr Gareth Vio, Emeritus Professor Grant Steven

Industry partners: Defence Science and Technology Group, Sandia National Laboratory

Developed at the University of Sydney 20 years ago, evolutionary structural optimisation is under constant development and enhancement. We're making large strides, especially in the area of fluid-structure interaction, examining aircraft wings but also micro-baffle.

We're also improving coupling of very high order accurate large Eddy simulation methods with reduced structural models via radial basis functions (RBF). This permits the solution of high-fidelity unsteady compressible turbulent fluid structure interaction (FSI) problems. The RBF method for force transfer and mesh deformation is feasible, computationally efficient and allows complete flexibility in the choice of computational mesh for the fluid and fidelity of the structure model.

We collaborate with the Defence Science and Technology Group and Sandia National Laboratory, focussing on weapons bay FSI, where very high sound loading (up to 170 decibels) can cause severe structural vibrations and fatigue. We anticipate that future developments of this methodology will allow improved prediction and mitigation of structural vibrations within gaps, cavities and wheel bays on aerospace vehicles.

Our experts: Dr Xiaofeng Wu

Our collaborators: National University of Singapore; Texas A&M University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

Future space craft are becoming autonomous, miniature, intelligent and widely distributed space-based mechatronic systems. Accordingly, we target the development of flexible and intelligent embedded networked micro-satellites for space applications.

Our research covers the following areas:

  • overall spacecraft system engineering for various applications
  • space embedded systems including system-on-chip and micro-electro-mechanical systems
  • navigation and control technologies for satellites formation flying
  • sensors and actuators for space and near-space applications.

Our small satellites program includes the design of small satellite systems and high altitude atmospheric test platforms for satellite sensor development and technology verification. We are designing micro-satellites and small-satellites with a mass range from 1kg to 200kg, with the capability to accommodate scientific and commercial payloads. 

Our satellite design activities are focused on providing space-based applications and solutions for agriculture remote sensing, mining, atmospheric sciences, environmental monitoring, telecommunications and innovative systems implementation. We are currently defining the requirements, design, project planning and the technical development proposal for a hyperspectral imaging satellite optimised for Australian Earth observation applications.

We also work with the National University of Singapore in the development of high-precision satellite technology for quantum-key encryption solutions. Similarly, collaboration with Texas A&M University includes the creation of virtual reality simulations for satellite structural engineering and potential human-colonisation of Mars.

Our experts: Associate Professor Dries Verstraete, Associate Professor KC Wong

Industry partners: Defence Science and Technology Group, Northrop Grumman, Air Affairs, Aerosonde

Engines have been recognised as the Achilles’ heel in many unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). While payloads have evolved rapidly to now encompass advanced sensors, propulsion technology has not made similar strides and UAVs are often fitted with legacy engines. We focus on three key areas to advance propulsion technology for UAVs:

  • hybrid fuel-cell-based propulsion systems
  • small variable pitch propellers
  • micro gas turbine systems.

Each of these technologies is key to enhancing the commercial potential of small-to-medium sized UAVs and solving the industry bottleneck.

Our propulsion lab possesses the facilities and expertise to conduction component, scale-model and system level tests of electric propulsion hardware.

We are your one-stop resource for testing and innovative solutions for small-scale electric propulsion trains, and have active collaborations with the Defence Science and Technology Group, Northrop Grumman, Air Affairs, and Aerosonde on optimisation and integration of hybrid-electric powertrains.

Our experimental investigations are complimented with advanced simulation capabilities and hardware-in-the-loop simulators for a range of propulsion technologies.

Our experts: Associate Professor Dries Verstraete, Associate Professor KC Wong

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – also known as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) by global aviation regulators and commonly referred to as drones – have been a significant research activity at the University of Sydney for more than 60 years.

Our internationally-recognised expertise in the design and development of innovative UAVs has been applied to multiple research projects involving airframe systems, instrumentation, flight simulation, flight dynamics, control, guidance and navigation, flight testing, system characterisation, flight operations and market analysis.

Our recent legacy systems include the Brumby series of UAVs used for industry-driven multi-year multidisciplinary research projects. Our innovative T-Wing VTOL UAV developed from a PhD project into a significant research and development project supported by the federal government with domestic and international partners, led to the demonstration of a mode-transitioning flight capability, which is still highly sought after today. Rapid prototyping, system characterisation and flight testing of UAV systems with uniquely agile capabilities remain the core of our research activities.

Active research projects include exploring innovations in design concepts to meet ever more demanding operational requirements relating to cruise efficiency, runway-independent launch and recovery, novel applications for UAVs. We also endeavour to push the limits on miniaturisation of practical flight platforms. Our expertise and experience in designing, optimising, and operating UAVs remain invaluable in ensuring affirmative cross-disciplinary research outcomes to take advantage of autonomous remote flight capabilities.

Our experts: Associate Professor Xiaofeng Wu, Anne Bettens

Our partners: Professor Peter Gibbens (University of Newcastle), Professor Greg Chamitoff (Texas A&M University, USA), Michael Clark (Thales)

Autonomous navigation capability for space exploration includes autonomous approaches to small bodies, rendezvous, landing and surface operations such as surveying and sampling.

These maneuvers and scientific experiments will be performed by robotic craft including orbiters, wheeled and hopping rovers, landers and helicopters as well as satellites for on-board servicing of space debris.

Our research intends to investigate vision-based navigation on a robotic craft to assess the prospective autonomy for space exploration, and using deep learning techniques to estimate position and orientation of non-cooperative satellites for on-board servicing. 

Our experts: Associate Professor Xiaofeng Wu, Jianning Tang

To support human space missions, transportation service of scientific devices and spare parts by launch vehicles is necessary but costly and less efficient.

Our project aims to develop a space-based manufacturing platform offering efficient manufacturing capabilities at much lower cost for space missions.

The platform operating in space will be able to perform manufacturing activities with the onboard 3D printing module and auxiliary robotics.

We're working on multiple topics involved, such as thermal control and structure design, to ensure the functionality and the reliability.

Our experts: Associate Professor Xiaofeng Wu, Sajad Hassan

Cyber security has become a concept in today’s modern electronics and communications.

While CAN Bus and other data bus have been adopted for satellite on-board data handling, each can lack security protection.

We aim to find ways to improve security resilience of satellite data bus in flight avionics such as MIL-STD-1553, with the outcomes intended to be applied to different platforms such as submarines, cars, robots, aircraft, drones and satellites.

Our experts: Associate Professor Xiaofeng Wu, Joshua Critchley-Marrows 

CROSS is a new-generation star tracker system for use in small-satellites being developed in collaboration with the Australian Research Council Training Centre for CubeSats, UAVs & their Applications (CUAVA).

Star trackers provide high precision attitude determination for satellites, however, current technology is prohibitively large and expensive for the growing small satellite market.

We aim to combine innovative and novel research to develop a competitive and accessible star tracker platform. 

Our experts: Professor Iver Cairns, Associate Professor Xiaofeng Wu, Yijun Huang

We're developing an integrated satellite power and data bus, in which the power and data share the same electric wire.

Put another way, this will be Power over Ethernet (PoE) on a satellite rather than just in office buildings and homes; that is, the power transmission line will interconnect satellite subsystems and payloads for data communication.

This Power Data Bus will involve two major parts, power distribution (via a smart battery array) and data transmission (signal injection and extraction from the power line).

The smart battery array will improve the compatibility of satellite electrical power systems. Each smart battery will have a microcontroller to control its usage and health, which will maximise battery efficiency and life, and also reduce the workload of the satellite’s main computer.

The smart battery will analyse the conditions and decide when to charge, output power, and disconnect itself if a payload malfunctions.

The data transmission method will allow parallel data transmission, so that multiple payloads can communicate simultaneously without using the main satellite computer.

This design significantly increases the reliability of satellite, since the satellite can still maintain its functionality by replacing the main satellite computer with one of the payload microcontrollers.