From working in investment banking, to researching hypersonic aerodynamics, to now working in the space domain – UNSW Canberra graduate Paulo Vasconcelos’ career has taken turns he was never expecting.

Paulo will join hundreds of new graduates this month after completing his PhD at UNSW Canberra.

Paulo’s thesis focussed on hypersonics, that is, vehicles that travel at speeds exceeding five times the speed of sound. 

“The goal of my thesis was to study the fluid-structure interactions that occur between the skin panels of hypersonic vehicles and the surrounding air flow,” Paulo said.  

“With vehicles subject to large structural loads and temperatures over 3000°C, it is critical to understand the interactions to ensure robust lightweight structures can be designed to withstand those conditions,” he said.

“Hypersonics is a challenging but rewarding field to study.” 

“While we’re still decades away from the reality of a hypersonic aircraft connecting cities like Sydney to London in less than 4 hours, I am proud that my research made a small contribution to, one day, make this possible.”

After completing his thesis, Paulo started working with Skykraft, a UNSW Canberra Launch Collaborator specialising in space capability.  

Paulo holds a propulsion system that he is currently working on at Skykraft. Source: UNSW Canberra

As a Lead Propulsion Engineer, Paulo is responsible for the design, manufacture, assembly, and testing of spacecraft propulsion systems. 

Simply put, Paulo helps to ensure that satellites can manoeuvre in space.

While spacecraft propulsion systems sound similar to hypersonic vehicles, they are distinctly different fields. 

To Paulo, shifting from hypersonics to space propulsion expertise was challenging but rewarding.

Crediting his experience completing his PhD, Paulo recognises his growth in becoming an independent thinker who is capable of learning new skills no matter the field. 

“My PhD at UNSW Canberra did not prepare me just for hypersonics, it prepared me for life,” Paulo said.

During his time so far at Skykraft, Paulo has seen his work come to life and launched into space, including the launch of Australia’s largest satellite payload in January

“It’s incredibly rewarding seeing our satellites up there in space,” Paulo said.   

Paulo says he is only one small piece that makes up a larger puzzle in solving Australia’s space sovereign capabilities.

“I love the challenge of working in the space domain because I have the potential to impact on a global scale.”

Together with the wider Skykraft team, Paulo sees how his contribution can make a huge difference in the space domain.