- Press Release
- Jan 28, 2023
Scramjets to power Australian space odyssey this month
Update: The first launch of HyShot has been rescheduled to Tuesday, October 30 at 11:30 am [Oct. 29, 2130 UTC] at Woomera, north of Adelaide.
A small group of scientists is quietly bunkering down this week for
potentially one the biggest developments in aerospace history.
An international consortium, led by University of Queensland researchers,
is attempting a scientific and engineering miracle on October 25 at the
Woomera Protected Area, 500km north of Adelaide.
The HyShot experiment involves the world’s first flight tests using
supersonic combustion. UQ researchers already hold the record for being
the first group reported in the open literature to “fly” a scramjet in a
UQ ground test facility in 1993.
At the heart of the Australian space odyssey, it is hoped the experiments
will validate information already captured in UQ’s T4 ground shock
tunnel, one of the few facilities on earth capable of conducting ground
based scramjet experiments for flight Mach numbers of the order of 7.6
The results are eagerly anticipated by the international scientific
community. Following a six-hour countdown, blastoff is scheduled for
about 12 noon on October 25, all going well. A second flight is planned
for October 30.
Scramjets are oxygen-breathing engines that work at hypersonic speeds,
giving off water as the only by-product and only needing some hydrogen
First proposed in the 1950s, they have never been tested in actual
flight. The Australian tests will be very fast, at almost Mach 7.6, or
7.6 times the speed of sound. They will not be measured in kilometres
per hour, but kilometres per second.
If the scramjet works in flight, it will be one of the major
technological advances since Chuck Yaeger became the first person to
break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.
William Heiser and David Pratt in their classic textbook Hypersonic
Airbreathing Propulsion (AEIAA, 1994) explained the significance of
hypersonic airbreathing engines:
This remarkable capability will complete the work on aviation begun by
the Wright brothers in 1903 by making possible flight at virtually any
speed and altitude, including the astounding prospect of escaping the
sensible atmosphere of the Earth and coasting into a nearby permanent
orbit. Perhaps more importantly for society, this will complete the
shrinking of the planet that began with the jet age …
While scramjets do raise the possibility of Sydney to London flights
in two hours, they are set to revolutionise the launch of small space
payloads, such as communications satellites, by substantially lowering
costs. Scramjets are much lighter than conventional engines that produce
the same power. They have the added benefit that they do not even have
to carry most of their propellant as they use oxygen from the atmosphere.
The current high costs of space travel are the result of the difficulty
of the first and most important step, that of leaving the surface of
the Earth and achieving a stable orbit above the atmosphere. These
costs will remain high while science depends on expendable rocket
propulsion which has inherently low efficiency and requires multistaging,
very large rockets and small payloads.
Science has stretched, squeezed, and liposuctioned to the absolute limit
existing technologies, which may be phased out in the next 10 to 20
years, so the race is on for the next generation of space vehicles.
The scramjet engine has the potential to offer the technological
breakthrough which may revolutionise the situation, by using atmospheric
oxygen compressed during the ascent.
The HyShot program will help underscore Australia’s position at the
forefront of hypersonic technological research. If successful, it will
open the door to a new way of flight testing.
The $1.5 million program is working within a small budget in
international space terms. The program led by UQ’s Dr Allan Paull has
resulted from three years of scrounging and cobbling together of
scientific and engineering partnerships, and the goodwill of
universities, governments and scientists in Australia, the U.K., the
U.S., Germany, France, Korea and Japan. It may be a scroungejet, as
well as a scramjet, but if nothing else, financial adversity has
“Ours is a low cost alternative, and we’ve had to develop all sorts of
ancillary equipment on the cheap. We’ve bought a lot of bits and pieces
off the shelf from automotive shops such as glues and silastics at $2
to $3 a pot,” Dr Paull said.
According to Dr Paull, a feature of the flight tests is that they have
been planned with scientific value and merit as their over-riding
objectives, and are not intended to be influenced by political
considerations or the need to protect commercial interests.
Dr Paull said for such a program to be actually initiated and led by a
University team, rather than a government or commercial body was unique,
and indicated the international standing of UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics.
In the U.S., NASA’s more complex Phase 1, Hyper-X, X-43A scramjet
mission has different objectives, and is funded in the vicinity of $185
million. NASA’s first flight ended in mishap on June 2, but it has many
more tests in the wings, so to speak. The HyShot program is not sure
where funding for the next flights will come from, if further testing
The UQ HyShot team includes Dr Allan Paull (Project Leader), Dr Hans
Alesi (Chief Engineer), Dr Susan Anderson (International Program
Coordinator), PhD student Judy Odam (Software Design), masters student
Myles Frost (ground testing), Neil Griffith, Rob Low, (Mechanical
Workshop), Barry Allsop, and John Peters (Electrical Workshop). Dr
Paull’s 73-year-old father Bert is also assisting with wiring problems
on the project.
The Australian scramjet flights will be commanded by ARDU (Aircraft
Research and Development Unit, Australian Defence) at Woomera. ARDU
is providing the expertise to run the complex program as well as the
personnel to operate equipment vital to the campaign’s success. In
addition, DSCW (Defence Corporate Support, Woomera) who control the
Woomera range, have also provided opportunities to liaise with
Aboriginal and pastoral interests and have provided much needed support
with information for using the range.
The HyShot project uses the expertise and financial support of
consortium partners such as Astrotech Space Operations, DTI and GASL,
QinetiQ, NASA Langley Research Center, The DSTO (Defence Science and
Technology, Organisation), Seoul National University, the DLR (German
Aerospace Center), NAL (National Aerospace lab. Japan), AFRL (Air
Force Research Laboratory, USA), and Australian Space Research
Institute (ASRI). Australian firms, Alesi Technologies, NQEA, AECA,
Luxfer Australia. BAE Systems Australia assists by providing operational
and logistic support.
Funding has also been secured from the Department of Industry, Science
and Resources, the Australian Research Council and assistance and
support from the UK Ministry of Defence. Engineers from Oxford
University who contributed to the aerodynamic testing will join British
Ministry of Defence and QinetiQ staff at the HyShot flights.
HyShot pix are available at: http://photos.cc.uq.edu.au/HYSHOT/
For further information, contact:
Peter McCutcheon (mobile 0413 380 012)
Jan King (mobile 0413 601 248) from UQ Communications
University of Queensland