Need for Speed

10 Apr 2017

UQ scientists are taking giant leaps for mankind in hypersonic flight research. And while travelling between Sydney and London in two hours may be off in the horizon, rumblings about UQ’s plans for small satellite launches using scramjet engines are being felt across the globe.

Scientists at the University’s Centre for Hypersonics have been conducting research into all aspects of hypersonic flight for more than 20 years.

While there is no quick and easy way of launching satellites into space, Professor Michael Smart from UQ’s School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering believes a reusable scramjet launcher could reduce launch costs and improve launch-date flexibility.

“A scramjet is a supersonic combustion engine that uses oxygen from the atmosphere, making it lighter and more fuel-efficient than rockets,” says Professor Smart.

“The advantage of that is you could fly long distances over the Earth very, very quickly, but it's also useful as an alternative to a rocket for launching satellites into space."

“We’ve worked on scramjet engines at UQ for more than 20 years, and we’ve developed them to the point where they can be used in a space-launch system.”

Professor Smart says all current satellites are launched by a rocket, but once launch systems have travelled their designated trajectory, they drop away and fall into the ocean.

“A scramjet is like a plane. When it has accelerated to its maximum velocity, the upper-stage rocket carrying the satellite blasts off its back, and the scramjet simply turns around and flies back to base. We can then re-fuel and launch it again."

Hear UQ's Professor Michael Smart talk about the research being done at the UQ Centre for Hypersonics with ABC Brisbane's Craig Zonca.