The SCRAMSPACE team and scramjet (half-scale rapid prototype)
The SCRAMSPACE team and scramjet (half-scale rapid prototype)
11 July 2012

It’s all systems go for the experimental SCRAMSPACE scramjet flight, which passed its Critical Design Review in Brisbane recently.

SCRAMSPACE is a free-flying hypersonic scramjet which will fly at 8600km/h next year, at the Andøya Rocket Range 300km north of the Arctic Circle in Norway.

A $14 million international consortium of partners in five countries, led by The University of Queensland’s Centre for Hypersonics, is behind the project, which is developing a new type of scramjet.

The project has enabled a flight team of 10 talented scientists and engineers to assemble at UQ, supported by the research of a further thirteen PhD students and postdocs.

Seven more are working on the project at partner universities: the University of New South Wales, University of Adelaide, and University of Southern Queensland.

Scramjets are air-breathing engines capable of travelling at hypersonic speeds.

They offer a safe, reliable and economical means for launching satellites into space.

Australia depends critically on satellites for communications, navigation, remote sensing, and much more.

SCRAMSPACE Director and Chair for Hypersonics at UQ Professor Russell Boyce said that passing the review under the scrutiny of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and others was a major project milestone.

“The SCRAMSPACE flight team has done an incredible job so far," he said.

“With training and support from our colleagues at DSTO, a state-of-the-art experimental scramjet vehicle has been fully designed, on time and on budget.

“Scramjets and hypersonic flight are the next big step for aerospace.

"As we tackle this challenge, the SCRAMSPACE team represents the talent pool needed to take our science and technology to the sky in future flight tests.”

The flight experiment Technical Lead, Dr Sandy Tirtey, described the next phase of the project as critical.

“It’s a very exciting stage in the project," he said.

"Our team now has a big effort ahead in manufacture, assembly and pre-flight testing to be able to fly next year.

“This will include installation of special high temperature ceramic components from our partners in Germany and Italy, a high temperature carbon-fibre thrust nozzle from another partner, Teakle Composites in Brisbane, and a laser flight instrument from UNSW.

"The pre-flight testing is extremely important, and will be supported heavily by our major industry partner BAE Systems.

"They have developed a sophisticated Hardware-in-the-Loop test capability, and will put the payload through a series of virtual missions in order to detect any faults."

The research surrounding SCRAMSPACE is also going well.

Fundamental scramjet research has been conducted in UQ’s T4 shock tunnel, as well as the very large shock tunnels at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Göttingen, Germany and at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) near Sendai, Japan.

Ground tests at USQ’s hypersonic wind tunnel and UQ’s X3 expansion tunnel will begin soon, followed by materials testing in a plasma hypersonic wind tunnel at the Italian Aerospace Research Center (CIRA) near Naples in Italy.

“X3 is the only facility in the world that can be used for testing meaningful scale scramjets at very high flight speed and at the actual dynamic pressures experienced by vehicles on ascent-to-space trajectories," Professor Boyce said.

"We've been assisted in this with infrastructure contributions from our partner AIMTEK.”

The research also makes intensive use of Australia’s supercomputing research infrastructure to perform computational studies of the complex scramjet flow processes.

The flight team, aside from Professor Boyce and Dr Tirtey, includes Dr Melrose Brown, Dr Michael Creagh, Dr Bianca Capra, Igor Dimitrijevic, Paul van Staden, Amy Dedman, Brad Sharp and Adrian Pudsey.

The SCRAMSPACE flight experiment

The 1.8-metre-long spacecraft will be transported to an altitude of 340 kilometres by a two-stage rocket. After leaving the atmosphere, the scramjet vehicle will separate from the rocket, and orient itself for the re-entry with small thrusters.

During the return flight, the vehicle will be accelerated by gravity to Mach 8 – about 8600 kilometres per hour.

The part of the experiment important to the scientists takes place at an altitude of between 27 and 32 kilometres. This is where the scramjet’s hydrogen fuel will be injected, and a wide range of instruments will analyse the combustion and measure thrust.

About the project

The SCRAMSPACE project was established with $5 million Commonwealth funding through the Australian Space Research Program.

The project forms the hub of a capability for ongoing scramjet flight programs to contribute to the talent pool for future flight tests and the Australian space and aerospace industry.

It has already achieved success in this with a cohort of highly talented people assembled to work on the project.

By addressing key scientific and technological questions, the consortium is conducting a flight-test of a free-flying scramjet at Mach 8, and ground-tests at up to Mach 14.

Partners in the program include four Australian universities — UQ, the University of New South Wales, the University of Adelaide, and the University of Southern Queensland; and a US university, the University of Minnesota.

It also includes aerospace agencies and research organisations from Germany (DLR), Japan (JAXA) and Italy (CIRA); DSTO; the Australian Youth Aerospace Association; and industry partners including Brisbane firm Teakle Composites Pty Ltd, Cairns firm AIMTEK Pty Ltd, and BAE Systems.

Media: Professor Russell Boyce, mobile 0459 171390 , email or Jan King 0413 601 248. Images available.