Students launch scramjet at Woomera
University of Adelaide engineering students are helping to develop Australia's involvement in future hypersonic flight and space industries.
The successful launch of a scramjet - a supersonic air-breathing combustion engine - at Woomera last month has produced flight test data on combustion in air above the speed of sound.
The experimental external burning scramjet was designed and launched by a team of undergraduates from the School of Mechanical Engineering. It reached a maximum velocity of Mach 1.9 (2200kph) and an altitude of 5080m.
"This was a unique concept being tested because we are trying to burn fuel in the supersonic airstream around the outside of the vehicle itself," said Dr Con Doolan, Senior Lecturer and the students' supervisor.
"There is no real engine as we commonly know it. Thrust is produced by cleverly shaping the outside of the vehicle so the burning fuel pushes it along. You can imagine the potential savings in weight and cost associated with that."
The technology has applications for future hypersonic aircraft that could theoretically fly from Adelaide to London in just a few hours, as well as space launch and missile applications.
Dr Doolan said there was currently no experimental data available of external supersonic mixing and the combustion process.
"The launch went extremely well," he said. "They [the students] obtained quality data of the external mixing and combustion process, which they are now analysing."
Student Phillip Mellen said: "This project has been a fantastic opportunity to gain experience while working with both industry and academic personnel, developing an idea from its early concept stages right through to completion."
"This type of educational experience is very rare and worthwhile and shows the high-quality education our Aerospace graduates obtain," Dr Doolan said.
"This project has allowed a group of undergraduate students to design and construct a cutting-edge aerospace research flight test vehicle, mount it on a rocket and test it at Mach 2 over the Woomera Test Range.
"There are very few universities in the world who can give their undergraduates that kind of education."
The project is sponsored by BAE Systems (who manufactured the scramjet), the Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith Fund and Teakle Composites, with launch services provided by the Australian Space Research Institute.
Story by Robyn Mills