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Home Astronomy & Space Science Scramjet-based Space Systems

SCRAMSPACE: Scramjet-based Access-to-Space Systems

HyShot, along with HIFire, is at the core of the scramjet-powered atmospheric flight program.

Safe, economical and environmentally responsible access to space is one of the major technological challenges of the 21st Century for all nations due to the dependence of the global economy on assured and secure access to space-based services. Actually getting there remains the single most important impediment to humankind’s use of space for communications, positioning and timing, remote sensing, space science and so on.

The most promising way to meet this challenge is to extend aeronautical technology to hypersonic vehicles powered, at least partially, by supersonic combustion airbreathing engines (scramjets).

Scramjets can be combined with rockets to produce a more fuel-efficient hybrid launch system.

Australia is a world leader in this field of research and development, with work being performed by a robust hypersonics community located in several universities, industry and the Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO).

Australia’s present focus is to achieve working concept technology demonstrators that can achieve scramjet-powered atmospheric flight at Mach 8. Two flight programs, HyShot and HIFire, are at the core of these efforts. The ultimate aim is to develop mature scramjets that can operate at much higher Mach numbers, to accelerate a vehicle to the speed required to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. No scramjet designs have been flight tested at these extreme speeds before now. The gap cannot be easily closed in one leap, and a stepping-stone approach is required.

The first step in this process is being taken by a recently funded project called ‘Scramjet-based Access-to-Space Systems’, or SCRAMSPACE. SCRAMSPACE is a A$14m, 13-member international project led by The University of Queensland (UQ). The partners in the SCRAMSPACE consortium include: Australia’s key players in hypersonics research – UQ, University of New South Wales, University of Adelaide, University of Southern Queensland and DSTO; local industrial partners BAE Systems, AIMTEK and Teakle Composites; international partners German Aerospace Center (DLR), Italian Aerospace Research Center (CIRA), Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the University of Minnesota; as well as involvement from our young people through the Australian Youth Aerospace Association.

The Australian Government has invested $5m in SCRAMSPACE through the Australian Space Research Program (ASRP). A principal aim of the ASRP is to strengthen Australia’s nascent space industry by encouraging collaboration between numerous small groups and centres, all of which have expertise but none of which has critical mass. SCRAMSPACE offers the prospect for Australia to develop a scramjet-based access-to-space industry and contribute to assured and secure access by Australia to space and technology.

"the ultimate aim is to develop mature scramjets that can operate at much higher Mach numbers, to accelerate a vehicle to the speed required to leave the Earth’s atmosphere"

The objectives of SCRAMSPACE are both scientific and strategic.

Firstly, the project will use hypersonic ground testing facilities, in particular the unique X3 expansion tunnel at UQ, to push the upper limits of scramjet operation for access-to-space purposes. X3 is the only facility in the world that can be used for testing reasonable scale scramjets at very high Mach numbers and at the actual dynamic pressures experienced by vehicles on ascent-to-space trajectories. This ground test research is innovative, will address key S&T questions for such scramjets, and will maintain Australia at the forefront of world scramjet research for access to space. It will underpin follow-on phases of the road map, in which increasingly high-speed and long-duration flight experiments are performed, leading eventually to prototype hybrid rocket/scramjet access-to-space systems. In the process, SCRAMSPACE will contribute to Australia’s space science goals for the coming years, as detailed in the Decadal Plan for Australian Space Science 2010-2019.

Secondly, the project will deliver an advanced free-flying scramjet flight experiment, SCRAMSPACE I, at the entry point to the Mach 8-14 access-to-space range for scramjets. The inflight performance of an exciting, innovative and commercially-attractive scramjet concept being explored jointly by UQ and DSTO, as well as high temperature materials with embedded sensors, and novel laser-based flight instrumentation, will be demonstrated. In so doing, SCRAMSPACE will build an experienced and immediately-industry-ready team of flight scientists/engineers that will contribute to the talent pool for a future Australian access-to-space capability. Australian industry, at both small-to-medium-enterprise and large company level, will be directly involved to allow the project to benefit from industry capability and to permit industry to acquire enhanced skills, expertise and capacity.

SCRAMSPACE has been designed to gain maximum leverage of the complementary skills and capabilities of the international aerospace partners DLR, CIRA and JAXA. In particular, the very large ground test facilities in Europe such as CIRA’s plasma hypersonic wind tunnel – to be used in this project for scramjet combustion chamber materials testing – and DLR’s huge shock tunnel – to be used here for studying the performance of the scramjet designs at large scale – will be critical for answering certain key questions posed by the technology. Furthermore, both DLR and CIRA possess advanced high temperature materials capabilities for aerospace systems, and will contribute components to the scramjet flight experiment. DLR’s Mobile Rocket Base will launch the rockets used to boost the scramjet onto its flight trajectory. External to the consortium, key European research groups will be kept informed of progress, and the door will be open for the development of related collaborations − in particular, with both ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) funded Graduate School (GRK) on the Aerothermodynamic Design of a Scramjet for Future Space Transportation Systems. ESTEC currently leads two European Community funded projects: ATLLAS (Aerodynamic and Thermal Load Interactions with Lightweight Advanced Materials for High Speed Flight) and LAPCAT II (Long term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies).

SCRAMSPACE will contribute to Australia’s space science goals for the coming years, as detailed in the Decadal Plan for Australian Space Science 2010–2019.

SCRAMSPACE has a specific aim to encourage young people to study aerospace engineering and related disciplines and to look towards the Australian space sector for their career. Undergraduate students of the Australian Youth Aerospace Association, and through them senior high school students from across the country, will be exposed to the project through the annual AYAA workshops and fora.

In the long term, scramjet-based systems will be an enabling technology for access to space. Scramjet R&D is an area of Australian niche excellence and world leadership, and SCRAMSPACE capitalises on this in the first phase of the road map to the development of hybrid rocket/scramjet access-to-space systems. It may be possible to develop such systems within a domestic industry to be established, particularly for delivering small payloads to Low Earth Orbit. However, the strategic importance of projects such as SCRAMSPACE goes beyond the particular fields in which they are conducted – in this case, hypersonics and access-to-space systems.

The SCRAMSPACE project will help Australia to build strategic international partnerships with some key governments, research organisations and companies in the space-related sector. The knowledge that will be generated as the project proceeds through the first and later stages should demonstrate emergent national capabilities in space technologies which are credible and which underpin a more active role by Australia in space in future.

By building the capacity for the country that SCRAMSPACE will generate, and by demonstrating credibility to the international community, the project will contribute substantial “skin in the game” for Australia to access space technology and infrastructure through collaborative arrangements between Australian and overseas governments, research organisations and companies. This will permit an appropriate level of self-reliance within the context of a heavily globalised and highly integrated market to be established and sustained.

- Professor Russell Boyce,
DSTO Chair of Hypersonics,
University of Queensland

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