Dr Elizabeth Jens is one of the world’s leading rocket scientists, working on the front line of the international space industry. As a Propulsion and Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Dr Jens helps lead the team working on the design of a new propulsion system to safely land the largest spacecraft ever attempted on Mars. Prior to this, she divided her time between working on a subsystem for the next Mars rover and developing a small propulsion system to enable stand-alone interplanetary SmallSat missions, designing rockets and testing their performance for various potential missions. Recognised as one of Australia’s most innovative engineers, Dr Jens is an inspirational leader who as a child had dreamed of working at NASA and through hard work, talent and perseverance, has made her own dreams come true.
Dr Jens grew up in the coastal Australian town of Torquay, at a time when Australia had no space industry to speak of. Inspired by the brilliant night sky, and a talk her family attended when she was a child by Apollo Astronaut Charlie Duke, Dr Jens was determined to find the path to becoming a space pioneer herself. Building on a love of physics at school, she completed a Bachelor of Science in Physics at the University of Melbourne, as well as a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, discovering she in fact had more affinity for the field of engineering. But she didn’t immediately dive into her career, first spending time travelling, then working in hospitality, then management consulting, before attending the summer Space Studies program of the International Space University. In 2010, she commenced graduate studies at Stanford University, as a Fulbright Scholar and a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. During her studies, she was twice awarded an Amelia Earhart Fellowship, supporting outstanding women pursuing PhD/doctoral degrees in aerospace engineering and space sciences. Dr Jens completed her PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2016, and secured an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where she has been working ever since.
Dr Jens’ work at JPL has been game changing for global space exploration. She has received four JPL Voyager Awards: two for her work on the Gas Dust Removal Tool for the Perseverance rover, one for leadership in developing a SmallSat hybrid rocket motor and one for leadership on a Lunar Dust Removal Tool technology proposal. She has also received team awards for contributions to the Sample Caching System on the Perseverance rover and for delivery of the Gas Dust Removal Tool. Her accomplishments have also placed Dr Jens in the spotlight beyond her immediate organisation. She was recognized as a Patron of Mateship by the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, named a Vogue Game Changer in 2018, and listed as one of Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers of 2017 as determined by Engineers Australia.