Uni of Adelaide in space flight research program
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
University of Adelaide researchers will help design a hypersonic aircraft as a first step towards cheaper satellite-launching space vehicles.
The University of Adelaide team is part of an international consortium granted $5 million under the Federal Government's new Australian Space Research Program. The partners will investigate and develop hypersonic scramjet propulsion technology for a future scramjet-based "access-to-space" industry, rather than just conventional rockets.
A scramjet is an air-breathing combustion engine that can fly faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1) and is capable of hypersonic speeds (faster than Mach 5). Cost-savings can be achieved through the engine's ability to take in air to mix with fuel for combustion.
"Conventional rockets used to launch satellites into orbit or space shuttles have to carry rocket fuel and oxidiser which is very expensive," says Dr Con Doolan, Senior Lecturer in the School of Mechanical Engineering and leader of the University of Adelaide team. "The air-breathing scramjets still need fuel but don't need the oxidiser, with the potential for substantially reducing the cost per kilogram of transporting payloads into space."
The aim is to produce a hybrid launch vehicle where one stage out of three in a conventional rocket will be replaced with a scramjet vehicle.
"Normally the rocket takes the vehicle to the edge of space and then the second and third stages boost its velocity to put it into orbit," Dr Doolan says. "We're hoping eventually to be able to replace one stage - probably the second - with a scramjet capable of Mach 14 or 15. That's the sort of speed necessary for space flight."
This first-phase project has two parts: a ground test program seeking to extend the potential of scramjets to Mach 14 speeds, and designing and building a hypersonic scramjet vehicle with flight testing at Mach 8 to take place at Woomera.
The University of Adelaide team, which also includes Associate Professor Ben Cazzolato and Dr Laura Brooks, will be taking the lead on investigating a hypersonic vehicle's dynamics and control.
"We don't really yet understand how to control scramjet-powered vehicles in flight - how to keep them stable and how to execute a manoeuvre," says Dr Doolan. "We'll be leading the research on that aspect."
The Mach 8 flight test data will be used to verify ground testing results from wind tunnel facilities. By the end of the three-year project, Dr Doolan says, the researchers should be ready to design and flight test a scramjet at space flight speeds.
The other partners in the program are University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales, the University of Southern Queensland, University of Minnesota in the US and international aerospace organisations DLR in Germany, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and CIRA of Italy as well as the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the Australian Youth Aerospace Forum, BAE Systems Australia, Boeing Research and Technology Australia, AIMTEK Pty Ltd and Teakle Composites Pty Ltd.
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