Hypersonics Research Scientist

Tamara Sopek

Tamara Sopek

What do you do?

I am a research scientist in hypersonics, which is the study of very fast and highly energetic flows encountered by space vehicles, planetary probes, and special types of air-breathing engines called scramjets.

My expertise lies in hypersonic ground-testing in high-speed facilities, for example, shock and expansion tunnels, where I use advanced optical measurement techniques, primarily laser diagnostics to measure flow properties such as temperature, concentration, or velocity and thus study aerothermodynamics phenomena.

Although my focus is on experimental hypersonics, I also use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to simulate these flows. Currently, I am working as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Hypersonics Group at the Oxford Thermofluids Institute, University of Oxford.

How did you get into the position you are in now?

My career in aerosciences started at the University of Zagreb, Croatia, where I graduated with a Master of Aeronautical Engineering in 2009. After that I completed a Research Master (MSc) at the von Karman Institute (VKI) for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium in 2011.

This is the place where I first started with hypersonic research and decided that is what I wanted to do in life.

I then moved to Australia where I did a PhD at the Centre for Hypersonics at the University of Queensland, graduating in 2018. I hope to continue my career in not only hypersonics but its sub-domain dealing with planetary entry flows.

What is it about the space industry that you enjoy?

I enjoy the thrill of doing something that helps us as humanity to go further, visit other planets, and hopefully, other galaxies in future.

There is something super exciting about being involved in work that enables these advancements and adventures to happen.

Why is what you do important?

The nonintrusive measurement techniques, such as the laser-based techniques that I use in my research, enable us to measure flow properties in hypersonic test facilities. These facilities generate very harsh test flows and so many measurements would not be possible using the typical experimental probes.

Nonintrusive methods provide a means to extract the flow information in a faster and cheaper per-test way. By obtaining more information about the flow, we can reduce the uncertainties and better understand the phenomena we are studying.

In relation to space industry, this translates to improving reliability associated with space missions, such as the planetary exploration missions or a human mission to Mars.

What do you see happening in the Australian Space Industry in the next 5 years?

I believe that Australia is on the right track to become a significant player in the space industry. We started off late, but things are developing rapidly and also gaining more attention.

There are now several rocket companies, satellite enterprises, etc. and also lots of academic endeavor, so things are moving in the right direction. I am definitely looking forward to see our local rocket launches in the next few years!