New Hypersonic Rocket Test Launched in Australia
A hypersonic rocket launches skyward during a March 22, 2010 test launch from the Woomera Test Range in Australia. The fight is part of the joint U.S.-Australian HiRise project to test and develop hypersonic vehicles for future aircraft transportation.
Credit: Australia Defense Science and Technology Organisation

Australian and United States military scientists test launched a new hypersonic rocket this week, the latest in a string of demonstration flights aimed at developing ultra-fast supersonic aircraft.

The test rocket streaked through the atmosphere at speeds of greater than Mach 5.5, which is equivalent to more than five times the speed of sound.

The flight marked the second in a series of up to 10 planned flights designed to advance research on high-speed flights and hypersonic technology, said Greg Combet, Australia?s Minister for Defense Personnel, Material and Science, in a Monday statement. An earlier test was performed last May.

?Today?s flight represents a significant scientific milestone, enabling scientists to collect fundamental data critical to the design and development of an engine capable of sustained hypersonic flight,? Combet said.

The flight, which launched from Australia?s Woomera Test Range, was part of a joint U.S-Australian program called Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFiRE). The program is aimed at investigating the fundamental science of hypersonic technology, as well as the potential future applications for next generation flight systems.

The research is being conducted as part of a partnership between the Defense Science and Technology Organization (DSTO) and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

In 2006, AFRL officials signed a $54 million deal with Australia?s Defense Department to fund the six-year HiFire program. The project also includes participation from NASA scientists, as well as U.S. industry and other Australian hypersonic scientists, AFRL officials have said.

The scientists are investigating the potential of air vehicle and propulsion technologies that could one day lead to sustained hypersonic flight.

Advances in hypersonic technology have enormous implications for both Australia and the world. Hypersonic flight has the potential to revolutionize global air travel, and could present more cost-effective ways of accessing and launching communication satellites in space, researchers said.

?Thanks to the work of this dedicated team of DSTO scientists, Australia is at the forefront of this technology,? Combet said.