5 mins read 01 Feb 2022

USQ receives funding to speed up hypersonics research

University of Southern Queensland PhD student, Lachlan Noller has been awarded a Higher Degree Research Capability Grant from the Queensland Defence Science Alliance to improve the capabilities of the University’s hypersonic wind tunnel.  

Mr Lachlan Noller with the USQ hypersonic wind tunnel nozzle. Mr Noller will be developing a new wind tunnel nozzle to produce a large airflow area which will increase testing capabilities at the site. Credit: USQ.

Hypersonics is the term used for flight that is faster than five times the speed of sound and is an area of research that is receiving a lot of interest both in commercial travel and defence industry circles. It is in this field that University of Southern Queensland (USQ) PhD student Lachlan Noller has received his grant.   

Mr Noller plans to use the grant to expand the capabilities of the USQ hypersonic wind tunnel leading which will allow testing of larger, correctly scaled scramjet inlets compared to the current wind tunnel capabilities. 

This will be done by developing a new wind tunnel nozzle design, which according to Mr Noller will allow them to produce a larger airflow area that can generate a Mach 7 flow, which is around 8,750 kilometres per hour. 

“To design the new nozzle, I’m using computations of fluid dynamic simulations to determine the required nozzle geometry coupled with analytical methods developed here at the University,’ said Mr Noller.

“Using this design methodology will provide us with evidence that the designed nozzle will indeed generate the desired flow conditions,” he added. 

Mr Noller will be supported by the USQ Hypersonic Group, which includes Professor David Buttsworth, Dr Fabian Zander, Mr Alister Webb and Dr Byrenn Birch. The group has also received a grant earlier this year to study how space junk re-enters the atmosphere, using the hypersonic wind tunnel to recreate re-entry conditions. 

“The amplified importance of understanding how re-entering space junk breaks up, extending the capabilities of the TUSQ wind tunnel ensures that our research team can keep up with the current research needs,” added Mr Noller. 

Queensland Defence Science Alliance

The USQ wind tunnel, which QDSA toured last year. Credit: QDSA.

The grant was part of the Queensland Defence Science Alliance (QDSA) higher degree research funding program where Mr Noller was one of three successful recipients as part of the 2021 round. According to the QDSA receiving the grant will provide successful candidates with the opportunity to showcase their research.  

The QDSA was set up to help facilitate connections between the Australian Defence Force (ADF), Universities, Government and the wider defence industry. The Queensland based alliance hopes to increase the capability pipeline for the ADF leading to better and tangible capability outcomes. 

According to Mr Noller, it is USQ’s reputation in the area of hypersonics research that helped to secure the grant. 

“To receive the grant is a testament to the hypersonics research team as a whole,” Mr Noller said. “Had the team not had the reputation it has, which was built up over many years, I feel like my chances of receiving the grant would have been significantly lower. Additionally, I have appreciated the support and input of the team members,” he added.

The other two 2021 grants went to David Sutton from the Queensland University of Technology and James Williamson from the University of Queensland. Mr Sutton’s research will focus on using lasers to detect chemicals, aimed at protecting soldiers and Mr Williamson’s research will look at lower-limb exoskeletons for soldiers. 

The future of hypersonics

The Delta Velos launch vehicle from Hypersonix. Credit: Hypersonix.

USQ already has significant experience in the area of hypersonics research and last year entered into a framework agreement with Queensland based startup Hypersonix to work on the development of their Delta Velos hypersonic launch vehicle. USQ currently have the longest duration hypersonic wind tunnel in Australia and it is hoped that the new capabilities will allow researchers to expand their studies.

“Hypersonics research is a massively re-emerging field at the moment worldwide,” said Mr Noller. 

Hypersonic vehicles appear simple in design, due to their lack of moving parts, but it has taken developments in modern materials to be able to drive this research forward. A supersonic-combustion ramjet or ScramJet uses the forward motion of the vehicle to compress the air and provides fuel directly into the airflow to create combustion. In this environment, where the air is at supersonic speeds, the temperatures can reach over 2000 degrees celsius requiring special heat resistant materials.

It is this ability to fly at high speeds and be reusable that is exciting both commercial and defence operators alike. At hypersonic speeds, an aircraft would be able to fly from Brisbane to New York in 2.5 hours. Hypersonix are developing a reusable hypersonic launch platform to launch satellites into orbit and the federal government last month announced a purpose-built Australian Hypersonics Research Precinct at Eagle Farm in Brisbane at a cost of $14 Billion.

“Never did I think in my undergrad that I would sign up for a PhD, but the opportunities and experiences I have been spoilt with in the Aerospace Engineering field so far have been unparalleled to anything else I would have encountered this early on after my undergraduate study,” concluded Mr Noller.