17 December 2003

Australia will mark today’s (17/12/03) centenary of powered flight with an historic agreement to coordinate and exploit the country’s research in hypersonics and scramjet technology.

The agreement between three of Australia’s largest universities, two State Governments and the Commonwealth Government, forms the basis of the Australian Hypersonics Initiative.

Hypersonics is the study of velocities greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5). It has been an area of specialised research in Australia since the early days of rocket flights from Woomera.

The Australian Hypersonics Initiative will build on Australia`s leading role in hypersonics, demonstrated last year when The University of Queensland successfully launched the world`s first experimental flight of an air-breathing supersonic ramjet engine (scramjet), and commissioned the world’s largest interplanetary flight simulation wind tunnel.

This success paved the way for widespread interest nationally and internationally in supporting Australia`s hypersonics research.

Last year’s test flight reached speeds of Mach 7.6, proving that the scramjet engine was viable. The technology will be useful for low-cost satellite launches and high-speed missile propulsion.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing the Australian Hypersonics Initiative will be signed this morning at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, exactly 100 years after the Wright Brothers historic December 17, 1903, first powered plane flight at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina.

The purpose of this MOU is to formalise the linkages between the various expert groups in the country, and to create the strongest possible platform for capitalising on Australia’s potential to be a leading participant in a major industry of the future.

Guests at today’s ceremony in Australia include the Chief Defence Scientist, Dr Roger Lough, University of Queensland Vice Chancellor Professor John Hay and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor David Siddle, Professor John Baird of the Australian National University, MrJames Walsh of the University of NSW, Professor Joseph Lai of the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and representatives from the Queensland Department of State Development and the South Australian Office of Economic Development.

According to the MOU, the parties will work cooperatively to facilitate the development of hypersonics technology in Australia, and take a coordinated approach to marketing the expertise internationally.

Dr Lough said the synergies in the participating organisations would enable Australia to establish a world-leading capability in hypersonics.

“We must capitalise on our existing expertise, using it creatively and cooperatively to position ourselves as leaders in this technology,” he said.

Professor Hay said Australia had the largest pool of University-based hypersonic researchers in the world, with some of the most advanced equipment for simulating velocities up to 50 times the speed of sound.

“We have more than 20 years of experience in hypersonics research and today’s agreement gives us the opportunity to build on that success by advancing hypersonics expertise in concert with our colleagues in other universities and Defence,” Professor Hay said.

“There are significant opportunities for the application of hypersonics technology, especially in space exploration,” Professor Hay said. “By taking a national approach such as we have agreed to do, Australia will be well placed to make the most of those opportunities.”

Space-based services are a growing area of international business, with the Global Positioning System estimated to have injected $US40 billion to the annual Gross National Product of the USA alone.

“Australia stands to gain a share of this huge market by a collective effort to grow its hypersonics expertise and participate in international projects,” Professor Hay said.

Australia has achieved a number of important “firsts” in hypersonics, including:

* the invention of the `free piston` driver for impulse facilities, which enabled realistic
simulation of high speed flight in the laboratory for the first time;
* the development of the first scramjet engine to deliver more thrust than drag;
* the first successful flight test of a scramjet combustor; and the
* development of the first `super-orbital` aerodynamic test facilities.

These are core capabilities for the development of a commercially viable space industry, which will depend on the use of revolutionary propulsion and flight concepts. The combined expertise in theoretical and applied hypersonics, together with the availability of unique resources has given Australia an important niche and a well-respected position in the global space community.

Australia has collaborated on hypersonics research with all the major space nations, including: USA, UK, Japan, India, South Korea, China, Russia, Canada, France and Germany.

Media: For further information contact Jan King, UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 1120).