Australia, USA Collaborating on Hypersonic Research
Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and the United States Air Force have signed an agreement to advance research into hypersonic (Mach 5 or higher) flight. The 8-year program has been established as a Project Arrangement under an existing research and development agreement between Australia and the USA, and the USD $54 million Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) project is one of the largest collaborative ventures to be undertaken between the two nations. It will have obvious implications for projects like DARPA’s FALCON, both as a boost to its ambitions for lower-cost satellite launches and an obvious feed-in to spaceplane projects (see our FALCON HTV Focus Article). Hypersonics also has potential implications for missile projects like the $120 million RATTLRS contract, not to mention the dual-combustion ramjet approach of HyFly et. al.
With the project underway, the latest news includes some related testing by Aerojet under HyFly/RATTLRS, and also of a combined cycle turbine-scramjet engine.
The HiFIRE Program
DSTO will be the Australian lead agency under the Australian Hypersonics Initiative (AHI). AHI’s collaborative partners include the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and the Australian National University, together with the State Governments of South Australia and Queensland. DSTO’s scientific contributions to the research program have included computer modeling of the combustion processes, non-linear mechanics, guidance and control systems, trajectory analysis, and assisting with telemetry collection (difficult at hypersonic speeds, since the sensors must be able to survive).
On the American side, the US Air Force Research Laboratory will lead, with additional contributions from NASA, US industry, US universities, and private industry. The X-51A Scramjet Engine Demonstrator – WaveRider (SED-WR) program, for instance, is managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory Propulsion Directorate. That’s a consortium of the U.S. Air Force, DARPA, NASA, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne; it is just part of the larger collaborative HiFIRE research effort. Total SED-WR program value is estimated at approximately $140 million, and a number of other firms are involved as contractors; these reportedly include:
- Dynamic Gunver Technologies LLC in Manchester, CT (laser welding of engine panels without impinging on heat exchanger patterns)
- Howmet Castings in Hillsboro, TX (vehicle body structural casting)
- Jansen’s Aircraft Systems Controls in Tempe, AZ (integration of valve sealing technologies with electronic controls at elevated temperatures and pressures)
- Ormond LLC in Kent, WA (intricate water-jet milling of heat exchanger patterns)
- Pioneer Aerospace in South Windsor, CT (recovery system)
- Starfire Systems, Malta, NY (the carbon/Silicon Carbide nose and tail assembly
- Veridian Engineering in Buffalo, NY (wind tunnel testing)
Australian Senator Macdonald said the HIFiRE project will see up to 10 hypersonic flight experiments conducted over the next 5 years at Woomera in South Australia.
HiFIRE: Contracts and Key Events
May 22/09: Australia’s Minister for Defence Science and Personnel congratulates the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) on the results of their recent joint hypersonic flight trial, which was the first of 10 HiFIRE flights.
The ground-launched, missile-shaped test vehicle used nitrogen gas valves as thrusters to maneuver itself in space, and guide itself to the correct heading and elevation for re-entry into the atmosphere. Ministerial release.
June 15/07: Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) announces a successful hypersonic launch. The craft rocketed to an altitude of 530 km, and reached Mach 10 during re-entry. The test obtained the first-ever flight data on the inward-turning scramjet engine design; the USA’s DARPA will now compare this flight data to ground test data measured on the same engine configuration in the US.
The flight took place at the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia under the HiFIRE effort and the AHI.
June 1/07: Boeing announces that its X-51A WaveRider Scramjet Engine Demonstrator completed a Critical Design Review (CDR) in late May, and fired its Pratt & Whitney X-1 demonstrator engine for the first time (X-1 is the first of two ground test engines proposed for the program). These are important program milestones en route to scheduled flight tests in early 2009; at present, Boeing says the program is on schedule.
May 3/07: Flight International reports that Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s X-1 supersonic-combustion ramjet engine for the X-51A hypersonic demonstrator has made its first simulated flight at Mach 5, in a wind tunnel at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. See also the April 30/07 Pratt & Whitney release.
Jan 3/07: Boeing has secured a role in the HiFiRE hypersonics research program. Under a recently-signed agreement enabled by a Queensland Government award, Boeing will work with the DSTO and The University of Queensland on 3 critical flight tests and will contribute to the design of a free-flying WaveRider-type hypersonic vehicle. The 3 flight tests that are the primary focus of the Boeing collaboration with Australian partners will be the 4th (WaveRider-type vehicle as an unpowered glider), 7th (scramjet engine alone) and 8th (WaveRider-type vehicle powered by the same scramjet engine) in the schedule of 10 planned flights.
Boeing will be building on the Boeing/ATK X-43A Hyper-X scramjet-powered vehicle. The X-43 made 2 successful flight tests in 2004, and recorded the fastest speeds yet achieved in flight by an air-breathing vehicle (Mach 6.83/4,600 miles per hour, and Mach 9.68/ 6,600 miles per hour). Boeing participation comes from Phantom Works in Engineering, Operations & Technology and from Advanced Systems in Integrated Defense Systems. See Boeing release.
Nov 10/06: Australia’s DoD announces HIFiRE.
Beyond HiFIRE: Related News
These entries are not an exhaustive compilation of other hypersonic news. They will offer a sampling of developments and resources that could be leveraged by the HiFIRE program, and/or follow-on programs that would likely experience direct benefits from HiFIRE’s findings.
March 7/08: Hypersonic research may be about to have a very direct program connection. Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that the United States military is about to release a request for proposals (RfP) in the coming weeks for Blackswift, intended as a successor to the retired SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 reconnaissance aircraft. US Air Force (USAF) Chief Scientist Mark Lewis reportedly said that DARPA’s Blackswift program would pave the way for the development of a hypersonic “SR-72” aircraft.
Jan 7/08: A USAF article covers Purdue University’s $1 million quiet hypersonic wind tunnel, which has been refined for over a decade and is the only publicly-known facility of its kind in the world. In a conventional tunnel, turbulent flow in the nozzle would radiate noise into the test section that could interfere with or mask critical findings as the researchers study elements of airflow (esp. laminar to turbulent transitions) over the X-51A’s nose at Mach 6-7 (4,000 mph) and above. Since that transition can multiply heating effects by up to 10 times, and place significant stresses on the airframe, it’s an important subject.
Oct 24/07: GenCorp subsidiary Aerojet has completed testing of its Advanced Combined Cycle Integrated Inlet (ACCII) at the NASA Langley Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel (UPWT) test facility. The highly instrumented test article was tested for more than 3 weeks to evaluate the influences of several flight conditions, and several hardware configurations.
The ACCII is a Turbine Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) engine that tries to combine the low-speed performance and reliability of turbine engines with the performance and simplicity of a dedicated high-speed Scramjet engine. The problem has always been how to create a graceful and reliable transition from one mode to the other.
Aerojet funded the design and fabrication of the ACCII test article, and the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, OH, invested in both the test facility costs and in key analysis efforts by Aerojet. Dick Bregard, Aerojet’s vice president of Defense Programs, says that Aerojet’s patented ACCII is part of a suite of key combined cycle engine technologies that “…provides a true ‘combined cycle’ approach, allowing smooth transition from low- to high-speed operation through the mission, as if the aircraft had one engine system.” The data gained in these experiments is expected to help develop future combine-cycle turbine/scramjet engines for NASA and defense projects – which may well include HiFIRE and its successors.
Sept 18/07: Aerojet is the principal subcontractor to Boeing Advanced Systems for the HyFly hypersonic missile technology demonstrator. HyFly is related to efforts like HiFIRE and will probably share learnings back and forth within Boeing, but it is not the same project. A full-duration test of their proposed engine was conducted at Aerojet’s Orange, VA airbreathing test facility, which provided a Mach 6 flight environment simulation.
The key question was whether an uncooled structure could survive extreme engine environments, and the answers appears to have been “yes.” Aerojet is building 2 flight test Dual-Combustion Ramjet engines for the HyFly program. Future flight tests will feature a missile configuration compatible with surface ship and submarine launches as well as U.S. Navy and Air Force aircraft. Aerojet release.
- ONERA – Ramjet, Scramjet & PDE: An Introduction
- CDI (Sept 26/06) – The future is coming – will we notice the difference? Good companion to the ONERA piece; actually a long look at the details and challenges of ramjet and scramjet technologies, and current research, all written in an accessible style if you can filter for political content.
- Aerospace Web – Hypersonic Waveriders
- Globalsecurity.org – X-51 Scramjet Engine Demonstrator – WaveRider (SED-WR)
- Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne – Hypersonics
- DID FOCUS Article – Falcon HTV
- GlobalSecurity.org – Revolutionary Approach To Time Critical Long Range Strike Project (RATTLRS)
- NASA – X-43A Project
- GlobalSecurity.org – X-43 Hyper-X Program
- Flight International (Aug 29/06) – Hyper activity: Hypersonics research in the USA
- Flight International (May 30/06) – US hypersonic aircraft projects face change as Congress urges joint technology office
- USAF News (Jan 27/06) – High-speed air vehicles designed for rapid global reach
- NASA (Nov 12/04) – Mach 10 Meteor: X-43A Scramjet Flight is Risky Business