Hypersonic missile secretly tested at Woomera

July 17, 2017

Sunshine Coast Daily:

Australia has quietly concluded a set of test flights of a missile capable of burning through the skies at more than 10,000km/h – and still changing course.

Any missile – or aircraft – capable of moving at such speeds will have been and gone before any defensive system could react.

And while China and Russia have both been boasting of their own advances in the field, Australia has also been working away with the United States to perfect the technology.

Defence minister Marise Payne said in a statement released on her website that the $54 million Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation tests recently wrapped up in the skies above the remote South Australian town of Woomera.

By definition, hypersonic speeds are any above Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound), or 6174kmh.

“Hypersonic flight is more than five times the speed of sound and has the potential to revolutionise air travel, making it faster and cheaper to travel around the world and into space,” Ms Payne said.

“There are key military applications of this technology and by understanding hypersonic flight, the Australian Defence Force will be in a better position to respond to future threats.”

Australia and the United States have been working in partnership on hypervelocity flight for almost a decade. The first launch of one of its test vehicles was conducted in 2009, with subsequent tests including 2012 and 2016.

Tops speeds obtained have reportedly been as high as Mach 8 (9878kmh).

A series of tests around the world have failed with vehicles becoming unstable before tumbling through the skies and breaking up.

Overcoming the issues have required advances in the propulsion systems, the strength of airframes, heat-resistant materials and refining aerodynamics and creating AI-controlled avionics both fast and subtle enough to direct a craft hurtling at such immense speeds.

“While this (HiFiRE 4) is the last in the HIFiRE series, Australia remains at the leading edge of hypersonics research, test and evaluation, thanks to the work of this dedicated team of Defence scientists and their industry and academic partners,” Ms Payne said.

Australia and the United States is now developing plans for the next phase of hypervelocity flight experiments, she says.

The experimental flight was tracked over the Woomera Test Range in SA’s Far North, where last month a private drone operator reported his drone had been mysteriously forced to the ground shortly before a large explosion in the distance created a mushroom cloud.

Then a fortnight ago a huge and unexplained fireball was seen over much of Outback SA.

The Australian Department of Defence says the experimental flight tests were part of a research effort involving BAE Systems, the University of Queensland, as well as the Defence Science Technology Group and AFRL.

NASA was one of the projects founding members, though is no longer directly involved.

University of Queensland Chair of Hypersonic Propulsion Professor Michael Smart said in a statement that the “triumph” advanced the realisation of hypersonic flight.

“Hypersonic flight has the potential to revolutionise air travel, making it faster and cheaper to travel around the world and into space,” Prof Smart said.

“Fundamental research conducted over many years by UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics, within the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, has made a significant contribution to this and previous HIFiRE flights.”.

BAE Systems has also declared the test a success, saying it was “the most complex of all HIFiRE flights conducted to date, to further the fundamental scientific understanding of hypersonic flight”.

“This flight trial is a significant step forward in proving this technology and enhancing our collective understanding of how it could be employed across a range of applications.”

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International Cooperation