‘Timing is immaculate’ for Aerospace in Australia

The first cohort of Aerospace Engineering majors will graduate ANU this month into a dynamic industry spurred by drones, artificial intelligence, and some out of this world opportunities in the space sector.

News Alumni

ANU Rocketry Team
ANU Rocketry Team

“We’re at a point of real innovation and change at the moment, and that’s exciting to be a part of,” said Dr Zena Assaad, an educator and Senior Research Fellow at The Australian National University (ANU) whose expertise is in emerging aviation technologies.

The first cohort of Aerospace Engineering students from the ANU College of Engineering Computing & Cybernetics (CECC) will graduate this month with an abundance of career paths before them.

The integration of drones and artificial intelligence has “softened the rigidity of the industry”, Dr Assaad said, while the launch of Australian Space Agency and the recent success of private space technology companies portend decades of growth and innovation.

Early adopter reflects on Aerospace choice

Josh Mercer prepares to test an ion thruster, technology that can be used to pilot satellites.

Market trends were not top of mind when Josh Mercer became the first CECC student to study an Aerospace Engineering major. A dedicated leader of the student-led ANU Rocketry team, his passion for aviation dates to early childhood.

He switched his major from Mechatronics to Aerospace after reading about the new major’s required courses, as well the world-leading academics lined up to teach them.

“The lecturers were really passionate and engaged,” he said. “Almost all the courses, if not all of them, had some sort of practical lab, whether it’s simulation, or from designing a glider or a plane to making an ion thruster.”

Josh described symbiotic relationships between the new major, the overarching Systems Engineering program, and the 90-member ANU Rocketry team.

“The university provides support for the Rocketry team in terms of staff, knowledge and funding while Rocketry and other student teams provide projects and knowledge back to the lecturers that they can integrate into their courses.”

In group projects, students studying for other Systems Engineering degrees have contributed to ANU Rocketry’s goals, which include building a liquid propulsion rocket engine capable of leaving Earth’s atmosphere.

Answering a nation’s call

“Access to space is an important part of Australia’s national sovereignty, one that we have ignored for too long,” said Professor Sean O’Byrne.

Sean Obyrne
Professor Sean O'Bryne
Professor Sean O'Byrne worked at NASA before returning to ANU to serve as Aerospace Discipline Lead.Prof O’Byrne earned his PhD at ANU in 2002 having studied high-speed supersonic combustion ramjet (scramjet) engines and planetary entry flows. He then worked at NASA and in academia before returning to ANU last year to become the Aerospace Discipline Lead.

He pointed to the network of satellites supporting navigation features on our phones, providing data about farmland and connecting medical patients in remote communities to healthcare professionals in urban centres.

“Those satellites didn’t fly themselves into Earth’s orbit; somebody put them there,” he said. “If Australia lacks that capability, we are dependent on other nations, which isn’t always a good thing.

Dr Zena Assaad says the aerospace industry is going through a period of real innovation and change. Dr Assaad said prospective students and their parents often ask about employment opportunities for Engineering graduates. She wrestles with how best to respond because the possibilities are so numerous and so diverse.

“There's a need for upskilling in Australia. We have a shortage of engineers, and we have a shortage of aerospace engineers,” she said.

The aerospace courses in the Bachelor of Engineering degree cover aerospace applications such as propulsion, aerodynamics, aircraft dynamics, aircraft structures.
Zena Assaad
Dr Zena Assaad

But something I say to all my students is, regardless of the major that you choose, Engineering is such a diverse degree to have, and you get so many transferable skills that you can’t really make a wrong decision.

When Allissa Li graduated in 2019, the Aerospace major was not yet available, but she said that ANU Rocketry and the Systems Engineering core prepared her for her job as an Aircraft Structures Engineer at Airbus.

Allissa Li
Alissa Li
She said the timing for the new Aerospace major at ANU is "immaculate".

“Now that I’m four years out of university, I realise how important it is to be able to integrate your own expertise with the many other systems that are necessary to build an aircraft,” she said.

“We don't know what aerospace engineering is going to look like in five years' time or in ten years' time because it's changing so rapidly,” said Prof O’Byrne.

“Unmanned vehicles, the access to space, the advent of artificial intelligence are all going to change. But the one thing you can be sure of is that they will be controlled by a system. Systems Engineers have mastered the combining of component elements into an optimised system, and that skill will keep you relevant from an employment point of view no matter how the industry changes around you.”

Discover the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at ANU

Learn more about Systems Engineering at ANU

Discover more about ANU-led space technologies

See our students in action with ISS astronauts

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