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High speed success at Woomera

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15 June, 2007
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Australias Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) has successfully launched one of the worlds fastest air-breathing engine experiments, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Mr Peter Lindsay announced.

TALOS rocket carrying the HyCAUSE scramjet experimental payload lifts off the launch pad at Woomera
TALOS rocket carrying the HyCAUSE scramjet experimental payload lifts off the launch pad at Woomera

The scramjet engine experiment reached speeds of up to Mach 10, approximately 11,000 km per hour, or ten times the speed of sound.

Scramjets are air-breathing supersonic combustion ramjet engines that could make it possible for a two hour flight from Sydney to London.

“This research is a major boost to Australian and international scramjet technology research,” Mr Lindsay said.

“Today’s flight rocketed to an altitude of 530km, and reached Mach 10 during re-entry,” Mr Lindsay said.

“Australia is a world leader in hypersonics research.”

“Scramjet research has taken place in Australia for over three decades. We have active research programs in niche technologies of scramjet propulsion as well as guidance and control at hypersonic speeds.”

The flight took place at the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia on 15th June under a collaborative effort between the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and DSTO, also representing the research collaborators in the Australian Hypersonics Initiative (AHI).

"This test has obtained the first ever flight data on the inward-turning scramjet engine design," said Dr. Steven Walker, Deputy Director of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA. "DARPA will compare this flight data to ground test data measured on the same engine configuration in the US."

"We are pleased with this joint effort between the US and Australia and believe that a hypersonic airplane could be a reality in the not too distant future."

While DSTO was the lead Australian research agency for the flight, the AHI’s collaborative partners include the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and the Australian National University, together with the State Governments of South Australia and Queensland.  

DSTO scientist Dr Warren Harch said hypersonic propulsion using supersonic combustion ramjet (scramjet) technology offered the possibility of very high speeds and fuel efficiencies.

“This technology has the potential to put numerous defence and civilian aerospace applications within our reach during the next couple of decades,” Dr Harch said.

Hypersonics is the study of velocities greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and could have a significant impact on Defence as well as on international transport and future access to space.

Future defence applications for hypersonic vehicles include long-range time critical missions, with civilian applications including low-cost satellite launching and high-speed aircraft.

Dr Harch said DSTO’s scientific contributions to the research program had been the computer modelling of the combustion processes, non-linear mechanics, guidance and control, and trajectory analysis.

 “Assisting with telemetry collection is another important area, which presents quite a challenge when working with a vehicle travelling at hypersonic speeds,” Dr Harch said.

As part of its continuing commitment to a research program in Hypersonics, in November last year DSTO signed the $74 million Hypersonics International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFire) Agreement with the United States Air Force. Up to ten Hypersonic flight experiments are planned to occur at Woomera over the next five years under the agreement.

Media Information:
Media Advisor: Niki Lyons 0418 762 307
Steve Butler (DSTO) Ph 08 8259 6923 or 0418 800 323
Defence Media: (02) 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) is part of Australia's Department of Defence. DSTO's role is to ensure the expert, impartial and innovative application of science and technology to the defence of Australia and its national interests.

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