26 February 2002

University of Queensland researchers have found the missing HyShot payload and rocket in the South Australian desert.

After having their hopes raised — then dashed — when they located a similar rocket of unknown origin yesterday, today the researchers positively identified their own scramjet and second stage booster rocket.

"It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. The scramjet’s pretty wrecked but we’re so pleased to find it in the middle of nowhere," HyShot team leader Dr Allan Paull said.

"Finding the payload means we can eliminate some likely factors which caused the rocket carrying the HyShot experiment to veer off course last year.

"We hope to conduct the next experiment for the HyShot international consortium using an identical scramjet in the next couple of months — possibly April.

"The information we learn from the recovered payload and Orion booster may help us tweak the experiment for the next launch."

An aerial team comprising kangaroo researchers Professor Gordon Grigg, Dr Tony Pople and Lyn Beard of UQ’s School of Life Sciences made the discovery in the Australian Defence Department’s Woomera Prohibited Area, more than 500km north of Adelaide this morning.

The aerial crew had to wait until about 11.30am AEST for a positive identification, as the ground team of Dr Allan Paull, Dr Ross Paull and Myles Frost from UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics battled through difficult terrain to reach the remote coordinate.

"We’d completed a saturation search of an 8km x 4km primary search area and last night in consultation with the ground team we decided to go back along the trajectory line 15km towards Woomera," Professor Grigg said.

"We all had a good feeling and we were confident if the calculations were correct we would find it.

"We saw what looked like a rubbish dump and a hole in the ground. There were no vehicle tracks leading to it so it almost had to be rocket debris. In our heart of hearts we were hoping it had been found.

"We kept flying for another two hours following our predetermined search pattern until Allan, Ross and Myles arrived and we gave them the coordinates.

"Myles was on a trail bike and Allan and Ross were in a four-wheel drive ute, with a stool rigged up on oil drums tied on with guy ropes, to get better visibility.

"Lyn was talking to them on the two-way and we saw Myles reach the spot and wave his arms about. Then when Allan and Ross reached the spot we couldn’t understand them on the UHF, they looked pretty excited."

Dr Paull thanked The University of Queensland, Australian Defence, and particularly Professor Grigg’s team for their "magnificent" support for the recovery mission. He said Professor Grigg’s team, which is conducting one of the world’s longest running wildlife surveys, was one of only a few in Australia capable of conducting precision flying close to the ground while searching in such precise coordinates.

Media: Further information: Jan King at UQ Communications, 0413 601 248.