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Scramspace flight ends in failure


September 19, 2013

Scramspace crashed into the North Sea

Scramspace crashed into the North Sea

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The University of Queensland’s Scramspace hypersonic experiment ended in failure today as the unmanned spacecraft plummeted into the North Sea off the coast of Norway. After a successful launch atop a rocket from the Andøya Rocket Range at 3 p.m. CEDT, Scramspace failed to reach the required altitude to begin the hypersonic flight experiment.

Scramspace Director and University of Queensland Hypersonics Chair Professor Russell Boyce says that everyone is safe and that both rocket and payload landed in the sea. "The range has assured us that everyone is safe, no one has been hurt and no one is in danger, which is the most important thing. But the launch did not go as expected."

He went on to say that they were in contact with the craft during the entire flight. "The Scramspace payload, according to our data, was operating perfectly and performed extremely well before and during the launch, and we received telemetry data all the way into the water. Unfortunately the failed launch meant we could not carry out the experiment as planned."

Today's flight was intended to test a new hypersonic scramjet engine that could one day launch satellites into orbit or make possible passenger flights from London to Sydney in 2 hours. The plan was to use a rocket booster to launch Scramspace out of the atmosphere, after which it would dive straight down until it reached the speed of Mach 8, when it would fire its engine for 3 seconds before burning up. Instead, the experiment failed and the payload ended up in the sea.

The team is now working on what went wrong. "As with all launches, there is a risk that something will go wrong," says Boyce. "Unfortunately for the Scramspace team, something went wrong, and we are looking forward to hearing from the range on what happened."

Source: University of Queensland

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Did someone forget to top off the fuel tank in the launch vehicle? :)

Tom Swift

So was it a failure of the launch vehicle or the test vehicle?

Simon Sammut

Sounds like a launch vehicle failure.

Pity, Aussie Universities are strapped for cash at the best of times.


Sounds like a launch vehicle failure given it didn't reach the required height and they are waiting for an explanation from the launch facility.

Bummer. A 2 hr flight Sydney to London would mean Hawaii was only 45 mins away :-)

Darth Stig

Oh well. Every kick in the bum is a step forward.

I believe in this technology, as do investors. It is the defining solution for how we economically expand LEO consumer/cargo transport.

So there will be another test, and then another. Until we get it right.


I am willing to bet that the KIWI's are feeling a bit sheepish about this failure. They shouldn't feel too bad, a lot of early US rockets blew up or failed too, just the cost of R&D.


That's a shame. Bad luck guys, but as others have said, this technology will work, so onward and upward!


Well this just stinks they didn't get to test their design , I hope they have the funds for another test flight . It would be great to see the Aussies steal a march on the super powers " and wannabes ". They're in the perfect place for a space port .

grtbluyonder : Kiwis are the folks from New Zealand .


This was a test, a test that failed. Someone's math on thrust to weight ratio or rocket engine efficiency or something was off.

Or as the Kerbals say "Moar boosters!" ;-)

Launching a cheap dummy payload of the same mass to actually see if the rocket can lift it to the desired height would've been a good idea, but would also cost more - yet would've revealed the flaws.

Then they could've gone back to a CAD software to alter the designs for rocket number two.

Gregg Eshelman

Gregg Eshelman, The scramjet experiment seems completely separate from the rocket system and the problem with the rocket system clearly had nothing to do with thrust to weight ratios - the statement from Andoya rocket range (http://www.rocketrange.no/?page_id=325) reads: "Apparently the cause was a fault in the first stage thruster that occurred in ignition during the first phase of the flight. This rocket configuration has been much used in sounding rockets, as by Sweden (at the Esrange at Kiruna), Norway, Germany and Brazil. In recent years there have been many launches of rockets with the configuration from Andøya. There have been no previous accidents or problems with the configuration."

and they go on to say: "The range can confirm that the SCRAMSPACE payload functioned as it should, and was in no way connected with the failure of the rocket."


Defence researchers have been working on ramjet powered technology for a long time now to deliver an intercontinental "payload". Nothing new here....

Anthony Maw

Isn't the scramjet (rather than the ramjet) the new part? My understanding is that there are zero scramjet vehicles in active use/service to date.

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