Australia’s hypersonic space plane is getting a New Zealand ride with the team behind the project hoping its fast enough to catch the Chinese and Russians.
Hypersonix Launch Systems is nearing the completion of its first DART-AE drone prototype, and the US subsidiary of NZ-based Rocket Lab is adapting its Electron rocket to boost it to Mach 5 (6125km/h) and beyond.
The modified rocket will carry the spacecraft high into the atmosphere at a sufficient speed for the DART AE to ignite its scramjet engine. From there, the hypersonic prototype will demonstrate its ability to engage in controlled flight at speeds up to Mach 7 (8644km/h) for the United States Defence Innovation Unit (DUI).
The mission has a targeted launch date of early next year.
Brisbane-based Hypersonix is one of 63 international aerospace companies contracted by the DUI in a bid to catch up with Chinese and Russian advances in hypersonic technology.
The Hypersonic and High-Cadence Airborne Testing Capabilities (HyCAT) project will choose a vehicle capable of sustaining speeds in excess of Mach 5 for at least three minutes to test new technology systems, including communications, navigation, guidance and flight control.
The first Hypersonix prototype will demonstrate the ability of its oxygen-breathing, hydrogen-fuelled, 3D-printed scramjet to shut down and restart multiple times over a 1000km flight. The craft will also carry flight data sensors and recorders to measure the effects of friction and airflow at high speeds.
“Our vehicles are capable of non-ballistic flight patterns to at least Mach 7, which exceeds the HyCAT specification,” says Hypersonix Launch Systems managing director David Waterhouse.
But first, it has to get to Mach 5 for the scramjet to get a “push start”.
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That’s where Rocket Lab’s HASTE Electron rocket comes in. “It’s taking an Electron, making a couple of wee tweaks to it, and all of a sudden, we have this great high-frequency hypersonic testing platform that hasn’t existed before,” Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told US media last week.
This will:“…safely bring DART AE to its initial operating speed, allowing DART AE to demonstrate its non-ballistic flight patterns,” Waterhouse explains.
Beck says his company has been working with Hypersonix since 2020. Their new formal partnership aims to “deliver highly capable, frequent, and cost-effective hypersonic and suborbital test opportunities.” Ultimately, Hypersonix intends its craft will help satisfy a commercial demand for rapid, accurate small-satellite orbital deployment. “But clearly, Australia’s strategic defence allies see immediate potential in our technology,” Waterhouse adds
Originally published by Cosmos as US embraces all its allies to help it compete against China and Russia in hypersonic research
Jamie Seidel is a freelance journalist based in Adelaide.
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