2016-05-19 “An Australian-United States team has successfully completed an experimental hypersonic flight at the Woomera Test Range. The experimental rocket reached an apogee of 278 km, achieving the targeted speed of Mach 7.5 (seven and a half times the speed of sound).
The experimental flight was undertaken as part of a joint research program, HIFiRE (Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation Program) being conducted by the Defence Science and Technology Group and the US Air Force Research Laboratory with Boeing and the University of Queensland providing expert technical design and analysis.
The HIFiRE team has already achieved some significant milestones such as the design, assembly and pre-flight testing of the hypersonic vehicles and the design of complex avionics and flight systems.
More test flights are scheduled in the next two years.”
Credit: Australian Ministry of Defence
Earlier we published an interview with the head of the Australian hypersonic team.
Australia has a small but cutting edge team of hypersonic researchers, with the test ranges to play out the evolving technologies, and with significant global working relationships. Research in this field can clearly yield possible capabilities for space access as well, with an ability to launch rapidly ISR and C2 capabilities for Australia and as part of the effort to overcome the tyranny of distance to deal with longer-range threats and challenges as well.
In fact, hypersonic “air-breathing” engines may be the only solution for dramatic reductions in the cost of launching payloads to orbit.
During a recent visit to Australia, I had a chance to visit several defense installations, including a hypersonics research area. I visited with Dr. Allan Paull and members of the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DSTO) hypersonic team located close to Brisbane, Australia.
Dr. Paull made it clear that the team was small but effective.
“We combine the skills of several disciplines but each member of the team takes ownership of the entire effort and provides inputs to each and every aspect of the enterprise.
We are not organized around a model of deep pocket experts who stay within the confines of their specialty; we interact across the enterprise to push the research effort forward.”
Dr. Paull emphasized that the hypersonic effort required progress in several technologies at the same time, materials, propulsion, computation, etc.
Visiting the workroom of the DSTO where two hypersonic vehicles are being assembled certainly reinforced the point that several moving parts are being worked toward the next hypersonic test.
The key takeaway from the discussion with Dr. Paull was rather straightforward:
By 2015 we will have finished our current round of tests, and by that time there is little question but that the basic scramjet technology works and can be leveraged moving forward.
A key hypersonics program is the HIFiRE program. Australia has worked with the USAF in building out a full set of HIFiRE test vehicles. The objectives of the program are twofold: To develop the science and technology for hypersonic flight with air breathing propulsion; Complete a horizontal flight of a scramjet-powered vehicle for a duration of 30 seconds.
An interesting aspect of the Aussie effort has been to build an engine which can reach hypersonic speeds but fit into the center of a vehicle, thus allowing for an axisymmetric configuration. The team is working a number of innovations to achieve this result.
Such an engine, if proven, would be a major step forward in making practical use of scramjet technology.
For example, if one wished to do a test replicating what the Chinese just did, it would cost 3-5 times more in the United States than in Australia.
By building a solid working relationship and joint development, access to the Australian range would make sense for both sides and a more cost effective and capable result in a timely manner could be achieved.
After my visit I had a chance to discuss my findings with Dr. Mark Lewis, the former chief scientist of the USAF and a leading researcher in Hypersonics.
Dr. Lewis underscored the importance of boosting the partnership going forward for a number of reasons.
“This is an important relationship because the Australians bring significant intellectual contributions to the table.
They also have important practical flight experience; we can even argue that they flew the very first flying scramjet under their HyShot program, which was a precursor to HiFIRE.
They have an extraordinary test range as well.”