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Scramspace scramjet arrives in Norway for test flight

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September 9, 2013

Artist's impression of Scramspace

Artist's impression of Scramspace

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A revolutionary jet engine capable of operating at eight times the speed of sound has arrived in Norway. Designed and built in Brisbane, Australia by the University of Queensland (UQ), the Scramspace is a hypersonic scramjet that will be fired by rocket in the Arctic Circle, where it will very briefly fly fast enough to travel from London to Australia in two hours. It’s part of a project to develop hypersonic technology that may one day be used to put payloads into orbit at a much lower cost than is possible today.

Scramspace is three-year research project by an international research team of 13 partners and sponsors from five countries led by Scramspace Director and Chair for Hypersonics at UQ, Professor Russell Boyce. Its AUD$14 million (US$13.7 million ) “shoestring budget” is small compared to similar American hypersonic project budgets that run into the hundreds of millions, but it draws on two decades of Australian hypersonic research into new engine designs and materials.

The heart of the 1.8-m (5.9-ft) Scramspace is a hypersonic scramjet. A standard jet engine, such as is found on an airliner, is a massively complex bit of machinery filled with turbine blades to compress the incoming air to make it suitable for burning the jet fuel. However, if the engine is traveling fast enough, the air compresses itself to support combustion. This is what happens in a ramjet, which is nicknamed the “flying stovepipe” for a reason – it’s an empty tube so lacking in moving parts that it seems like a joke at first glance. The fuel is sprayed straight into the combustion chamber and ignites in a surprisingly simple fashion that disguises some sophisticated engineering theory.

In a ramjet, the air is compressed, but it’s still only moving at subsonic speed as it passes through. But in a scramjet, the air is moving at supersonic speeds throughout the engine. This means that, just as a ramjet can operate at supersonic speeds, the scramjet engine can operate at hypersonic speeds.

The Scramspace uses a scramjet that differs from a ramjet in that the fuel is pumped into the air inlet instead of the combustion chamber, to give the fuel time to mix properly with the air at supersonic speed. Igniting the hydrogen fuel exploits the fact that in the engine, the compression isn't even. There are spots of very high pressure, much like the “diamonds” that you can see in a jet exhaust, that raise the temperature of the fuel/air mixture to the ignition point.

One thing Scramspace isn’t designed for is durability. That’s because its entire career will be over faster than you can say “hypersonic swan-dive.” Between September 15 and 21, weather pending, Scramspace will go on a Mach 8 (5,290 knots, 8,600 km/h, 6,090 mph) high-speed test flight when it is launched at Andøya Rocket Range, 300 km (186 mi) north of the Arctic Circle.

Scramspace will be shot into space to an altitude of 320 km (200 mi) by a two-stage rocket. When it leaves the atmosphere, the spacecraft will separate and small gas thrusters will turn it and aim it straight down at a very precise angle. Gravity will then take over and accelerate Scramspace to Mach 8. When the vehicle is at a height between 27 and 32 km (17 and 20 mi), the engine will fire while instruments record combustion and thrust data. This has to be done very quickly because three seconds after ignition, Scramspace will disintegrate over the North Sea.

The team hopes that the test will provide a better understanding of hypersonic physics, hypersonic combustion, how materials and components behave at hypersonic speeds, and how to improve hypersonic craft design. Though the technology is in its early days, they also hope that it will one day make it cheaper to send payloads into orbit by allowing launch vehicles to fly while carrying much less liquid oxygen than present rockets.

“As part of the Australian Space Research Program, this project supports Australia's access to space, as helps build the talent pool of engineers, scientists and specialists we need to do it,” Professor Boyce says.

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
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8 Comments

This is strange. The United States military has been experimenting with Scramjet technology for almost thirty years, and by now it should be well understood.

I remember seeing puffs of a contrail - Thursday afternoons - off the coast of Sthn California, maybe 25 years ago. Later it was disclosed that it was the military testing Scramjet.

I imagine that the University of Queensland could have obtained this data?

PB
10th September, 2013 @ 10:21 am PDT

To PB, why do you think only the USA can come up with something like this, I'm sure there are others outside of the USA who can come up with something like this without the help of the USA. Unlike the USA who captured all their high tech from the Germans, Rockets Jet fighters, and about 3000 german scientists, just to name a few.

ArtistDe
10th September, 2013 @ 11:38 am PDT

If the Australians believe hypersonic flight to be an open challenge, I'd warn them that the Pentagon may not only withhold information on the subject, but actively try to make believe that U.S. hypersonic technology is still experimental, by announcing from time to time a hypersonic test flight -- whereas in actual fact an unknown number of hypersonic bombers, each capable of carrying 6 tons of bombs to any point of the globe in less than two hours, may be ready to be launched any time, as forecast long ago.

euroflycars
10th September, 2013 @ 01:58 pm PDT

to: ArtistDe we here in the USA suffer from not caring to understand whats going on outside our states. PB: We have not produced a Scramjet that is commercially viable, and like most things. People should be free to figure it out for themselves.

Tito
10th September, 2013 @ 02:06 pm PDT

AD: And the Germans got their head start in rocketry from studying the patents of the American Dr. Robert Goddard which numbered in the hundreds. He offered them free to the U.S. military but they did not see much benefit except to assist takeoff (JATO). They told him WWII would be decided by the side with the best trench warfare. Generals in peace time are promoted for their political connections, not their military expertise. This is worldwide. It is how governments work.

Don Duncan
10th September, 2013 @ 02:09 pm PDT

any plans for manned models, awesome If going upscale.

Stephen N Russell
10th September, 2013 @ 05:34 pm PDT

@ euroflycars

In the USofA ramjet powered cruise missiles were abandoned because ICBMs were easier to get to work. (The same rocket engines no ramjets.) It does not really make a difference though global reach in 90 minutes or less.

Getting scram jets to run reliably is still a problem. The University of Queensland probably recieved some of their funding from the USofA Defense department.

Slowburn
11th September, 2013 @ 08:09 am PDT

This would be great to see the research continue, but as I understand it, this is the last test as the project has run out of funding.

Many people will lose their jobs after this rocket test.

Would be a great time for a new Sponsor to get in at the ground floor for Scramjet Technology.

Gareth Stratton
12th September, 2013 @ 03:58 am PDT
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