Daniel's career in space engineering blasts off

Published 4:00pm 21 February 2023

Daniel's career in space engineering blasts off
Words by Ashleigh Howarth

Daniel Smith is well on his way to becoming a real-life rocket scientist.

The former Grace Lutheran College student is on a mission to make space launches safer by researching how to better design rocket nozzles and jet engines so they don’t explode.

The basis of his research, which he completed during his final year of undergraduate study at Monash University, is already turning heads in the aerospace and aeronautics industry, especially after he won a prestigious research competition.

Daniel entered the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) 2022 Region VII Student Conference, which was held at the University of Adelaide in November.

“This was my first time entering because you have to present a full body of work,” Daniel said.

“I studied a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering and Science… and what I did was submit my final year project.

“I worked on this for the whole of 2022, and in the simplest terms, my research is a new way of looking at high speed airflow and then using that method to look at making new rocket nozzles and jet engines that will be better designed in the future.

“The beginning of my project started with looking at the airflow coming out of a rocket nozzle, where I could see there was lots of air going sideways which causes the rocket to shimmy and shake, which can lead to big explosions.

“My method then looked into analysing air that comes out of the rocket nozzle and then visualizing that in such a way to make a 3D model on the computer, which is very hard to do.

“Hopefully this can be used in the future to figure out why rockets have that shimmying motion so we can build better nozzles and have less failures.”

AIAA holds conferences in each region for university students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The conferences are a way for students to present their research and be judged on technical content and presentation skills by AIAA members working in the aerospace industry.

Attendees presented 34 papers and represented 23 universities from 12 countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Paraguay, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

Daniel said he couldn’t believe it when he was announced the winner in the undergraduate category.

“I didn’t have any clue that I was going to win because this is such a massive competition, but as soon as they announced my name I was in shock, then happy, and then back to shock,” he said, laughing.

Daniel's career in space engineering blasts off

Presenting his research on the global stage

Winning that competition meant Daniel then travelled to Washington DC last month where he represented Australia at the AIAA international conference.

While there, Daniel met other aerospace students and presented his work.

It was also a great opportunity for him to network and find out more about future pathways and job prospects.

“They had this full room of industry leaders and I got to speak to people from some of the biggest companies in the world including Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who build the rockets for NASA,” Daniel said.

“I also got to speak to people from NASA and Blue Origin, which is Jeff Bezos’s space company.

“What I discovered is, there are lots of jobs for people who are non-US citizens.

“One place that I would like to work at is JPL – I’ve had my eyes on them for a long time. They are based at Pasadena in California.

“But for now, I am going back to Monash University and do my PHD, which I will work on for the next few years.

“It is a very competitive industry, but I will keep my eyes and ears open, do some really good work and hopefully get a job with them later.”

A life-long love affair with space

Daniel, now 23, said his love for building things and space started when he was a young boy.

“My mum and dad will tell you I have always loved building LEGO and designing things,” Daniel said.

“Then there was my love for space and rocketry. This drew me towards aerospace engineering.”

When Daniel graduated from Grace Lutheran College in 2016, he initially went down a different career path, before switching degrees half way through.

“I started a Bachelor of Aerospace and Physics at UQ and I did that for a year-and-a-half until I decided it wasn’t for me,” Daniel said.

“I then went to a tertiary studies expo and that’s when I found out about Monash University in Melbourne and how they do a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering and Science – two things I have always been interested in.

“I then moved to Melbourne and started in 2019.”

About AIAA

AIAA is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defence.

For more information, visit www.aiaa.org

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