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Thien’s story

When Thien Nguyen began studying aerospace engineering, he assumed he would have to leave Australia to work in the space industry.

“I expected that you’d have to move to the US or Europe,” he says.

His perspective shifted completely after he attended his first Australian Youth Aerospace Association (AYAA) event. The event was called Undergraduate Space Week, and it opened Thien’s eyes to how much was happening in Australia. “Talking to peers who shared my passion for space in Australia showed me how much was going on here,” he says. “I realised that I wanted to stay and help build what’s here in Australia.”

It also got him hooked on the community side of AYAA and the space industry.

“I thought, the organisers are doing some really cool things,” he says. “I started putting my hand up for everything I could.”

Thien has held five roles with AYAA since then. His first role was as a student leader at the 2018 Australian Youth Aerospace Forum. Now, he’s the President of the organisation.

The AYAA’s goal is to link those aspiring to build careers in aviation and aerospace with people and organisations in the industry. One of the first events Thien organised was a networking event at a virtual reality arcade. It included a VR demonstration of the International Space Station and the Moon landing.

He was also part of the team that organised the first ever Australian Universities Rocket Competition. Teams compete to design, build and launch a rocket with a payload that can reach an altitude as close as possible to either 10,000 or 30,000 feet.

While Thien has never built a rocket himself, he is extremely proud to have helped launch the annual competition. “It’s a very difficult challenge, but if you throw a bunch of engineering students in a room together they can make it happen,” he says. “I’m constantly mind-blown by what the teams are capable of.”

In 2019, Thien was one of five lucky Adelaide students to receive a scholarship for the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program. After the first three weeks of lectures, Thien found himself in charge of the final team project.

“I put my hand up to help with organisation if required, and that quickly turned into me leading the team,” he laughs. “I had just had my 22nd birthday, I hadn’t even graduated, and here I was trying to coordinate 20 or so industry professionals.”

Apart from his work for the AYAA, Thien is also working on a PhD in computer science at the University of Adelaide. His studies are based at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning and his project is exploring machine learning for space applications. Ultimately, he wants to stay in Adelaide and help Australia’s space industry grow.

“I want to be an accelerator for what happens in space in Australia. I want to help push that forward as far as possible.”

Thien’s journey

  • Thien started out studying a double degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering and physics at the University of Adelaide in 2015.
  • In 2017, he attended his first event run by the Australian Youth Aerospace Association (AYAA). He was impressed and decided to get involved.
  • At the end of his third year, Thien decided to drop the double degree and focus on aerospace. This meant that he could study part-time in his penultimate year, giving him time to contribute to the AYAA.
  • At first, he got involved with the AYAA’s South Australian committee. Then in 2018, he took on the role of Logistics Coordinator for the inaugural Australian Universities Rocket Competition.
  • He then joined the National Committee as the National Engagement Manager in 2019, followed by Vice President of Operations in 2020.
  • In 2019, Thien completed his bachelor degree. He also received a scholarship to attend the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program. He went on to present his team project as a paper at the International Astronautical Congress in the USA later that year.
  • After finishing his degree, Thien spent three months in Queensland working on Victoria Police helicopters as an intern with HeliMods.
  • Thien became the President of the AYAA in December 2020. In 2021 he commenced his PhD in machine learning for on-orbit space missions.