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Hypersonic flight test hits Mach 7.5

Don't get excited about shorter passenger flights just yet, but do celebrate a successful test

By Richard Chirgwin, 22 May 2016

Australia's venerable Woomera rocket range last week hosted a successful hypersonic test in which the experimental HiFiRE rocket hit Mach 7.5 and an apogee of 278 km.

The data-gathering experiment wasn't testing a hypersonic motor – sorry “Sydney to London in two hours” fans – but rather carried instruments to observe the aerodynamics of flight at speeds up to 9,200 km/h.

The HiFiRE 5B experiment was conducted to measure boundary layer transition on a three-dimensional body reaching hypersonic speeds. It was a repeat of the HiFiRE 5 launch in April 2012, which only reached Mach 3 after the second-stage rocket failed.

HiFiRE is a joint project between Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the US Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing, and the University of Queensland.

The success of HiFiRE will be a morale-booster for the University after the failure of its 2013, AU$14 million ScramSpace launch in Norway.

Here's the launch:

Youtube Video

As this design document (PDF) on NASA's site explains, the experimental part of last week's shot was the payload carrying an instrument package.

The rocket itself was an S-30 sounding rocket first stage and an “Improved Orion” second stage. ®

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