15 June 2007

A scramjet experiment involving The University of Queensland as a collaborative partner has safely launched today at the Woomera Test Facility, 500km north of Adelaide.

Researchers are awaiting confirmation telemetry data from the launch, conducted about 12.45pm AEST, 12.15pm Central time, after a countdown commencing at 5am.

The launch was a collaborative effort between the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), also representing the research collaborators in the Australian Hypersonics Initiative (AHI).

Scramjets are air-breathing supersonic combustion ramjet engines that could make it possible for two hour flights from Sydney to London.

A Talos-Castor rocket combination propelled the HyCAUSE engine to a height of about 450km, with the first stage Talos dropping off after six seconds, and the second stage Castor taking the scramjet engine to an experiment in the final seconds of the flight.

The speed achieved will be known in the near future when downrange telemetry data is received. The goal was to achieve Mach 10, or about 11,000km an hour in the Hypersonics Collaborative Australian/U.S. experiment (HyCAUSE).

While DSTO was the lead Australian research agency for the flight, the AHI’s collaborative partners include The University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and the Australian National University, together with the State Governments of South Australia and Queensland.

UQ HyShot program leader Associate Professor Michael Smart, who was present at the launch, said a number of University of Queensland associated personnel were involved in the project at Woomera Test Facility.

They included Honorary Professor in the School of Engineering and UQ graduate Allan Paull, former UQ staff Dr Hans Alesi and Lisa Jensen, current PhD students Mark Bateup and Dillon Hunt, and UQ graduates Dr Ross Paull, Myles Frost and Dr Todd Silvester.

It was third time lucky with planned launches on Wednesday and Thursday delayed, with yesterday’s flight aborted at five seconds to liftoff due to high winds.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Mr Peter Lindsay said the launch was a major boost to Australian and international scramjet technology research.

“Scramjet research has taken place in Australia for over three decades. We have active research programs in niche technologies of scramjet propulsion as well as guidance and control at hypersonic speeds,” he said.

"This test has obtained the first ever flight data on the inward-turning scramjet engine design," said Dr Steven Walker, Deputy Director of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA.

"DARPA will compare this flight data to ground test data measured on the same engine configuration in the US."

"We are pleased with this joint effort between the US and Australia and believe that a hypersonic airplane could be a reality in the not too distant future."

Hypersonics is the study of velocities greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and could have a significant impact on defence as well as on international transport and future access to space.

As part of its continuing commitment to a research program in hypersonics, in November last year DSTO signed the $74 million Hypersonics International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFire) Agreement with the United States Air Force. Up to 10 hypersonic flight experiments are planned to occur at Woomera over the next five years under the agreement.

The University of Queensland will be involved in three flights in this series. The three flights are funded by a $8.5 million Smart State National and International Research Alliances partnership announced last year between UQ, the Queensland Government, Boeing and DSTO.

The partnership will allow UQ to build advanced scramjet prototypes and undertake prolonged flight tests at speeds of more than Mach 8, or 8000km/hour.