Sydney student jets off to NASA JPL for prestigious internship

2 May 2023
PhD student takes part in 10-week NASA internship
University of Sydney and SmartSat PhD candidate selected for 10-week NASA internship aimed at launching students into careers in aerospace.

Anne Bettens is a PhD student in the Faculty of Engineering. Image: Luisa Low, University of Sydney

An aspiring space leader from the University of Sydney and SmartSat CRC is one of two Australian PhD students taking part in a prestigious ten-week internship program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

Anne Bettens, a PhD student in the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering has been paired with an expert mentor from the JPL, who is providing one-on-one assistance and training to develop her work in autonomous navigation for robotic space craft.

The internship has been designed to further PhD students’ technical knowledge while making a positive contribution to JPL's autonomous robotics project. A student from Adelaide University has also been selected to intern at JPL.

“I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with the artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies being developed by JPL for planetary exploration – a highly relevant area to my PhD research,” said Anne, who has been involved in projects with Thales Alenia Space and ISAE-SUPAERO in France. She has also published numerous academic papers and presented at conferences, including the 2022 International Aeronautical Congress in Paris.

“My current area of research is autonomous navigation of robotic craft for space exploration. I welcome any opportunity for exposure to robotic hardware at JPL, particularly on the research and development side,” she said.

Anne’s postdoctoral supervisor, Dr Xiaofeng Wu from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering said: “Anne is an exceptional PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, showcasing a passion for space exploration that has driven her to pursue a career in the space industry. As a young entrepreneur with an abundance of creativity, she will be a future leader in the Australian space industry. The JPL internship represents a milestone for Anne.”

JPL is a research and development lab federally funded by NASA and managed by California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The centre is a world leader in robotic space exploration and science, sending spacecraft through the solar system, launching rovers (including Perseverance and Curiosity) to Mars, hosting a slew of Earth Science missions and providing cameras to the James Webb Space Telescope project.

SmartSat Chief Research Officer Dr Carl Seubert, who worked at NASA JPL for 11 years, said it was challenging to narrow down the many high calibre applications received, which demonstrates the incredible potential within the Australian space research ecosystem.

"We had many exceptional PhD students apply for the NASA internship, a testament to the skills being developed in Australia for our fast-growing aerospace industry. Anne has shown great dedication to her research and to the innovation of Australian space technology”, said Dr Seubert.  

“I had an out-of-this-world experience at JPL working alongside experts on challenging technologies and the best missions and I want to share that with other Australians.  This program provides our students with an invaluable opportunity to learn from some of the greatest aerospace engineers and scientists, forging enduring international collaborations.“

SmartSat’s industry-focused doctoral program aims to build Australia’s space high-tech knowledge. Now in its third year, the program has already offered over 65 PhD student scholarships and aims to produce seventy PhD graduates over seven years. This initial internship program with NASA JPL aims to set a blueprint for future internship opportunities with global space organisations.

Luisa Low

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering)

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