9 January 2007

University of Queensland researchers are testing the shapes of things to come ahead of planned scramjet tests in Australia over the next five years.

Following the testing of the HyShot™ III and IV scramjets in flight at Woomera in 2006, team members are working on three designs for the HyShot, V, VI and VII series of flights.

The first flight is planned to occur within the next 18 months at Woomera, South Australia.

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 (Defence Science and Technology Organisation). And in a recent development, the three flights will become part of a 10 flight, $54 million hypersonics research program called HIFiRE, jointly established by DSTO and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

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

UQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor David Siddle said the partnership would facilitate an exciting new aerospace industry in Queensland, based on the HyShot program.

HyShot program leader Associate Professor Michael Smart said the new generation of scramjet designs would further the technology from the simple proof of concept experiments previously conducted.

“While flights to date in the HyShot program have had the scramjet experiments attached to the second stage rocket motors, the new experiments will be free flyers,” he said.

“They will be released from the final stage rocket motors before re-entering the atmosphere, allowing better opportunities to measure the thrust performance and aerodynamic characteristics of the experiments.”

Scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjets) are a type of very fast jet engine. They are being touted as the next generation of cheap travel, allowing the possibility to launch communications satellites more cheaply or to travel between one side of the planet and the other in a few hours. They inhale oxygen from the atmosphere to burn their fuel, rather than carrying oxidisers in their tanks like rockets. UQ is an international leader in scramjet research, achieving combustion in these engines in flight for the first time anywhere in the world in 2002 and having flown four scramjet engines at Woomera, South Australia over the past five years. Postdoctoral fellow Milinda Suraweera and PhD student James Turner have been making models of the new shapes and testing the new engine designs in a key UQ ground test facility, the T4 shock tunnel.

The new designs feature 3-D shapes, which have better performance than 2-dimensional shapes tested in previous flights.

“We have been getting very favourable results in our ground tests”, said Associate Professor Smart. “The engines are performing even better than we predicted”.

Associate Professor Smart did fundamental work on new inlet designs while working at the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Propulsion Branch at NASA`s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

He said all scramjet engines included an inlet, where incoming air is compressed. The new shapes will test the 3-D shaped REST (Rectangular-to-Elliptical Shape Transition) inlets in flight.

Associate Professor Smart said the new flights would also test waveriders. A waverider is a very efficient hypersonic vehicle that has the potential to cruise at high speed for long distances. The new experiments being planned are:

• HyShot V — A free-flying hypersonic glider
HyShot V will be a hypersonic waverider designed to fly at Mach 8 (8000 km/hr). It will separate from its rocket booster in space and perform controlled manoeuvres as it enters the atmosphere. This flight will not have a scramjet attached. “It's about learning how to fly a hypersonic vehicle at high altitude”, said Associate Professor Smart. Both an up-and-down trajectory similar to HyShot I-IV, and a more horizontal “depressed” trajectory are being considered for the flight.

• HyShot VI — A free-flying Mach 8 scramjet
HyShot VI will use an up-and-down trajectory similar to HyShot flights 1-IV, but the scramjet engine will separate from the rocket and enter the atmosphere on its own at about Mach 8. It will be a payload of around 250 kg (twice the size of the scramjet engines in the HyShot I-IV flight series). The HyShot team will then measure actual thrust levels of the scramjet over about five seconds of scramjet engine operation. The scramjet will be one of the new breed of three-dimensional engines designed by UQ.

• HyShot VII - Sustained Mach 8 Scramjet Powered Flight
HyShot VII is the culmination of the other two flights. It will be a scramjet-powered waverider vehicle and its design will make use of the information learned from HyShot V and VI. A depressed trajectory will be used for this flight and the HyShot team plans to fly the scramjet-powered vehicle horizontally for up to a minute at Mach 8. This compares with the brief experimental window of about 5 seconds for HyShot I-IV and VI.

“If we can do this, we will have the key technologies we need to design an un-manned vehicle to fly from Sydney to London in two to three hours,” Dr Smart said.

Media: Further information, Associate Professor Michael Smart, telephone 07 3365 3783 or Jan King 0413 601 248.