The remarkable progress Australian engineers and scientists have made when it comes to the development of hypersonic scramjet engines could have an enormous impact on the way satellites are launched into orbit.
An engineering team from the University of Queensland’s Centre for Hypersonics will arrive in Roma in December to start flight tests. These tests will be the beginning of a 3 stage space project called SPARTAN.
This project aims to utilise hypersonic technology to build a re-usable satellite launching system. According to Professor Michael Smart, the director of the Centre for Hypersonics, the SPARTAN project will capitalise on a very-clear gap in the space satellite launch market.
Modern electronics have greatly reduced the weight and size of modern satellites (many weigh around as little as 100 kilograms now), but there is no fast and cost-effective method of getting the satellites up into space. The answer, believes Professor Smart, could lie within his re-usable scramjet launcher which may decrease launch expenses and boost flexibility when it comes to launch dates.
“At the moment there’s a lot of activity in the small satellite area. Currently, there are about 1,265 satellites orbiting in space, but the cost to launch a single satellite is astronomical. Our project’s aim is to reduce this cost and make it more economically viable for smaller nations and organisations to launch their own satellites and monitor their own space through the development of a reusable space launch system,” explained Professor Smart.
The trials of the re-usable satellite launching system will involve the testing of a new sort of rocket-booster which is fitted with a motor and wings, dubbed an Austral Launch Vehicle (ALV). The motor and wings are intended to ensure the rocket booster can land safely back on Earth after its fuel runs out.
Scram jets are special, air-powered engines which do not contain a turbine. These engines can hit speeds exceeding 6,000 kilometres per hour. They only work when they first reach hypersonic speed which is why development of the first-stage booster AVL is necessary. Once they’ve reached speeds exceeding 6,000 kilometres per hour they can continue powering themselves.