Scientists and engineers working for Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) on Friday announced the successful test firing of a small vehicle equipped with a scramjet that accelerated to a maximum velocity of Mach 10 (11 000 km per hour). The test run was part of an ongoing U.S.-Australian campaign to explore the possibilities of scramjet flight technology.
Flight controllers launched the scramjet from a conventional booster rocket at the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia. At 530 kilometers altitude traveling at supersonic speed, the HyCAUSE scramjet engine was fired and the vehicle shot through the atmosphere on its own, reaching the record velocity during its descent.
A scramjet is a supersonic combustion ramjet engine that compresses intake air at high-velocity and mixes it with fuel in a combustion chamber to produce extremely fast discharge. Aeronautical scientists believe scramjets are capable of reaching speeds of between Mach 12 and Mach 24 (orbital velocity).
"This research is a major boost to Australian and international scramjet technology research," Peter Lindsay, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, said of the achievement. "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 hypersonic HyCAUSE engine is a joint effort sponsored by Australia's DSTO and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). A spokesperson for DARPA, Steven Walker, Deputy Director of the Tactical Technology Office, said the American agency will review telemetry and other data from the flight in coming weeks and compare it to that from ground-test data measured on the same engine configuration in the U.S.
"This test has obtained the first ever flight data on the inward-turning scramjet engine design," said Walker. "We are pleased with this joint effort between the U.S. and Australia and believe that a hypersonic airplane could be a reality in the not too distant future."
The hypersonic scramjet test program is part of the US $74 million Hypersonics International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFire) Agreement with the U.S. Air Force. The researchers have plans for up to ten flight experiments at Woomera over the next five years under the agreement.