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ScramJets are go

29/03/2006. Contributed by Jessica Martin

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A 1m QinetiQ scramjet experiment was successfully launched at Woomera, 500km north of Adelaide, South Australia.

A University of Queensland-led project, named HyShotTM III, successfully launched QinetiQ's scramjet engine which was attached to a Terrier-Orion rocket.

It is hoped that scramjet will have attained an estimated Mach 8 (or about 8000km/hr) flight speed as it fell back to Earth. The rocket and the scramjet were taken up to an altitude of 314km during a 10-minute flight.

The mission involves launching the scramjet to a certain altitude before it is then re-oriented to point backwards to the Earth. The scramjet experiment was set to take place in a tiny six-second window shortly before impact.

An international team of researchers is presently analysing data from the experiment.

QinetiQ researcher Rachel Owen told that it looked like everything had gone according to plan that the vehicle had followed a "nominal trajectory" and landed 400km down the range. She said the launch had been very exciting and she was very proud to see the scramjet fly.

The scramjet engine, which has been developed by defence and security company QinetiQ on behalf of the UK MoD, will spearhead the first of three international collaborative flights to launch in Australia this year.

The experimental flights are designed to further scramjet technology. Scramjets are supersonic combustion ramjets, which use oxygen from the atmosphere rather than carrying oxygen supplies like rockets, and are designed to fly at hypersonic speeds which is greater than five times the speed of sound.

They are set to revolutionise the launch of small space payloads, such as mini or micro low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, by substantially lowering costs. LEO satellites are used in a variety of applications including earth observation, however the cost of launching them is tremendous and the advancement in scramjet technology could lower the costs significantly.

Scramjets could conceivably be used as part of a multi-stage launch vehicle that would involve a number of propulsion mechanisms to enable the vehicle to exit the earth's atmosphere. This type of launch vehicle would substantially lower costs through reducing the quantity of fuel carried because the amount of oxygen needed to be carried, compared to a conventional rocket, would be significantly lower.

The HyshotTM III experiment is designed to determine whether the efficient air inlet will enable the combustion chambers to auto-ignite. Managed under the umbrella of the HyshotTM international programme led by the University of Queensland (UQ), the QinetiQ project aims to provide low cost in-flight experiments, enabling the validation of ground test facilities and thus furthering scramjet technology.

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