An Update on Australian Hypersonic Developments


2017-07-24 Earlier, during a visit to Australia, we focused on the role of Australia in hypersonic research.

“Australia has a small but cutting edge team of hypersonic researchers, and with the test ranges to play out the evolving technologies, and with significant global working relationships, Australia is at the cutting edge of hypersonic research.”

A recent Australian article published by Engineers Australia provided an update on the hypersonic research team’s recent progress.

Aerospace engineering researchers from the University of Queensland have worked with industry and government partners to complete an experimental hypersonictest flight.

According to the team, the successful experimental flight at Woomera, South Australia, means commercialised flight faster than five times the speed of sound is now closer to reality.

UQ Chair of Hypersonic Propulsion Professor Michael Smart said Australia’s commercial and defence sectors could soon benefit from hypersonic flight.

“Hypersonic flight has the potential to revolutionise air travel, making it faster and cheaper to travel around the world and into space,” he said.

The experimental flight was designated as HIFiRE 4. It is a part of the HIFiRE Program conducted by the Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group and US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), partnering with UQ, Boeing, and BAE Systems.

HIFiRE 4 is a hypersonic waverider, designed to fly at Mach 8 (8000 km/h). It separates from its rocket booster in space, and performs controlled manoeuvres at it enters the atmosphere. The purpose is to learn how to fly a hypersonic vehicle at high altitude.

The primary objective of the flight is to partially pull out from a near vertical atmospheric re-entry by a nominal altitude of 27 km, while remaining under control. The secondary objective is to then land the vehicle on the ground via horizontal flight.

The vehicle had to be designed and engineered for aerodynamic performance, stability and sufficient control to allow the pull-up manoeuvre from a flight path angle of -70 degrees to 0; high lift-to-drag ratio during the hypersonic flight, sufficient internal volume to house all the required subsystems and instrumentation, as well as structural materials that would be suited for the aero-thermal conditions encountered during the flight.

The team achieved their goals by developing a configuration around an osculating cone waverider design, with a cylindrical fuselage added to the upper surface to house subsystems.

The researchers collected data continuously during the test flight, and this data will help researchers to better understand controlled flight at hypersonic speed.

Fundamental research from the University of Queensland’s Centre for Hypersonics, a part of the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, contributed to the HIFiRE flights. The program is also partially funded by Boeing and the Queensland State Government through the National and International Research Alliances Program.

The HIFiRE team has thus far achieved significant milestones, including design, assembly and pre-flight testing of the hypersonic vehicles, and design of complex avionics and flight systems.