1 May 2003

The recovery of the successful HyShot™ II experiment still hangs in the balance after an intensive University of Queensland ground search did not locate the payload in the South Australian desert this month.

“The predictions of the likely impact area are good. We are confident we can recover the scramjet experiment in due course,” said HyShot™ team leader Professor Allan Paull of UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics.

“However, recent good rain in the region has led to extensive growth, making the ground search an extremely difficult undertaking.”

The University of Queensland Alumni Association Inc provided $8000 funding for the 10-day expedition to locate the second stage rocket and the historic HyShot™ experiment in a remote north-westerly region of the Woomera Prohibited Area.

Alumni funding has also made it possible for the HyShot™ team to organise recovery of stage one of the two-stage Terrier Orion Mk 70 rocket used to boost the scramjet payload to a speed of March 7.6 (or more than seven times the speed of sound) when the experiment occurred on July 30, 2002.

Scramjets are air-breathing supersonic combustion ramjet engines. They are set to revolutionise the launch of small space payloads, such as communications satellites, by substantially lowering costs. They could make flights of only several hours between Australia and Britain possible.

The successful scramjet experiment — the first in the world — validated information already captured in UQ`s T4 ground shock tunnel, one of the few facilities on earth capable of conducting ground based scramjet experiments for flight Mach numbers of the order of 8 or higher.

Professor Allan Paull led a recovery team of 14 University staff, family and volunteers in 4WD vehicles. They included chief engineer Dr Hans Alesi, computer and electronics engineer Dr Ross Paull electronics engineer Bert Paull, Dr Ian Tuohy of BAE SYSTEMS Australia, and IT specialist Gordon Clarke.

They encountered challenging driving conditions during the three-day ground search. There were six metre high sand dunes, washouts, rabbit warrens, rugged mallee and black acacia forests, and saltbush-dotted savannah woodlands.

The team overcame a number of mechanical problems, including 10 flat tyres staked by dense undergrowth, and transmission difficulties.

Not so easy to conquer were the swarms of flies, scorpions and dingoes hovering in the background.

The search was conducted using three 4WD vehicles travelling in tandem, 100 metres apart, searching a 20km sq kilometre area in methodical six km x 3km grid patterns around the nominal impact point. They were guided by Global Positioning Satellite coordinates determined from Dr Ross Paull’s calculations.

“After the flight experiment was completed, as the scramjet plunged back to the ground, one of the ground crew, Mark Farley of DSTO, managed to take a picture of the vapour trail,” Professor Paull said

Four sets of telemetry (radio) tracked the flight, including the final seconds when the experiment occurred. A narrow beam of telemetry tracked by Steve Hall of ARDU, combined with the vapour trail photograph, helped triangulate the likely resting point of the experiment.

“University zoologist Professor Gordon Grigg had a brief look for the scramjet during his annual aerial kangaroo survey of the region last year but was unable to find it. Although this was disappointing at the time, it helped reduce the search area,” Professor Paull said.

“It’s clear from our search that the environment requires a different approach and that an extensive aerial search combined with a ground search will help us recover the payload to assist us in our next launch.

“At the time, we were interested in the experiment itself but now we’d like to know the answer to such questions as how the instrumentation heated during launch and at what stage did it burn up during the experiment.”

The team met with homestead and mining company representatives to discuss local conditions and safety procedures during rocket launches.

Professor Paull is negotiating with groups in Japan, the U.S. and Europe to secure the next launch. The project has generated enormous interest from scientific and government groups internationally as a cost-effective way of achieving many scientific objectives sought by other, more expensive programs.

“Funding for the analysis of the data is secure, but we would like to find the scramjet experiment and bring it back to UQ,” Professor Paull said.

“This would allow UQ to display a bit of its history for future generations as well as provide us with a unique opportunity to analyse something that went through space and travelled at such high speeds.”

Professor Paull said an initial grant by the Alumni Association more than 20 years ago had resulted in scramjet research even being undertaken at UQ.

The Association provided seed funding to Australia’s first Professor of Space Engineering, Emeritus Professor Ray Stalker starting UQ on the study of scramjets.

In 1993 Professor Stalker, Professor Paull and Dr David Mee achieved the world’s first ground test flight of a scramjet in UQ’s T4 shock tunnel.

Media: Further information, contact Professor Allan Paull 07 3365 3783 or Jan King 0413 601 248.