Australian scramjet passes latest test

The $1.25 million University of Queensland Hyshot scramjet project has passed its latest test by successfully blowing its nose.

In multiple ground tests at UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics in Brisbane, researchers made the rocket nose cone eject to expose its payload — the fastest air-breathing engine ever built.

The Hyshot scramjet engine is expected to power a Terrior Orion rocket at Mach 7.6, or 2.4km a second, during a flight experiment at Woomera on August 13, with a repeat experiment with a second rocket on August 20.

Scramjets are air-breathing supersonic combustion ramjet engines and are set to revolutionise the launch of small space payloads, such as communications satellites, by substantially lowering costs.

Project leader Dr Allan Paull said a nose cone ejection design originally provided by NASA had proved unsuitable because it used gunpowder to dislodge the nose.

‘However, this posed an unacceptable risk for ground tests on the UQ campus and didn’t offer us the ability to do multiple tests,’ he said.

‘So we developed a new system which uses compressed gas to fire off the nose cone, much like popping off a champagne cork.’

Dr Paull said Hyshot would reach an altitude of more than 300km before separating from the Terrior Orion rocket and plunging back to earth.

The experiment will be conducted during the atmospheric re-entry phase of the flight. The nose cone must eject to expose the scramjet because on the downward flight path, about 35km above the earth, the scramjet will activate, sending back data in a timescale of about five seconds before crashing to earth.

It is hoped the experiment will validate information already captured in the University’s T4 ground shock tunnel, which is said to be one of the few facilities capable of conducting ground based scramjet experiments for flight Mach numbers of the order of 8 or higher.

If the experiment works first time, the UQ researchers will use the second test flight to take measurements on a more complicated engine which has been proposed by the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).