Tuesday, 11 August 2015 19:57

Australian-designed scramjet engines perform ‘flawlessly’ in flight trial

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Scientists say they have taken away valuable lessons from the latest trial of the joint Australia-US Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program conducted recently at the Andøya Rocket Range in Norway.

The flight experiment, known as HIFiRE 7, was designed to determine how scramjet engines start up at high altitudes, and to measure how much thrust the engines produce at lower altitudes.

The scramjet engines were designed by the University of Queensland (UQ) and the flight test vehicle and control systems were designed by Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), now renamed the Defence Science and Technology Group.

The scramjet stage of the experiment commenced after completing a suborbital flight and re-entering the atmosphere as the payload accelerated to over seven times the speed of sound or 2km per second.  

Dr Ken Anderson, Chief of the DSTO Aerospace Division, said the trial was also a key technology flight to test complex systems necessary for the reorientation and control of hypersonic vehicles outside the atmosphere and in the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

Dr Anderson said that during atmospheric re-entry, the flight data stream from the payload was lost just 15 seconds before the completion of the flight, possibly due to overheating of the voltage regulator in the telemetry system.

Data received, however, in the early part of the flight showed that the test vehicle was functioning perfectly, the flight was proceeding on the correct trajectory, the flight control system performed flawlessly and supersonic airflow was established in the combustor.

The Science Lead for HIFiRE 7, Professor Michael Smart from the UQ School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, said although the complete set of data was not received, most of the new technologies worked perfectly.

“I am happy to say this has paved the way for continuing the program,” he added.

According to Dr Anderson, six flights have been conducted in the HIFiRE program over the past decade.

“During this period we have acquired a great deal of experimental data and gained extensive insight into hypersonic physics, helping us to understand the possibilities and the limits of high-speed flight.”

Professor Smart said the HIFiRE Program is investigating the fundamental science of hypersonic technology and its potential for next generation aeronautical systems, and involves 10 hypersonic flights to gather aerodynamic and scramjet data that cannot be obtained in ground tests.

“Flight testing is inherently risky, but it is the best way to advance scramjet and hypersonic technologies,” Professor Smart said.

A second attempt of the flight is currently being planned in order to capitalise on the existing investment and the encouraging results which the team says they have seen in Flight 7.

The HIFiRE program is a joint collaboration between the US Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL), DSTO, Boeing and UQ.  The HIFiRE-7 flight trial was coordinated by DSTO, with rocket motors supplied by the German Aerospace Organisation (DLR).  BAE Systems contributed with ground testing of flight software.

Additional funding for the flight was provided by the Queensland State Government National and International Research Alliances grant.

The next two flights in the HIFiRE Program will be conducted at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia this year and 2016.


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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