A University of Queensland lab has supersonic success.
- By Luba Vangelova
- Air & Space magazine, November 2002
(Page 5 of 7)
Finally, the day of reckoning drew near. In late October, Paull and his teammates drove halfway across the country with their precious cargo on the back of a utility truck. Paull’s family followed in their own cars. Their destination: Woomera Instrumented Range, a speck in the desert 300 miles north of Adelaide.
“We knew the whole thing was fraught with problems,” Paull admits.
The launch itself went off without a hitch. But then the second-stage rocket veered off course and disappeared over the outback. Having experienced a similar misfortune, NASA’s Lawrence Huebner concludes with a laugh, “Rockets don’t want scramjets to take over their job.”
Paull admits that his own team lost momentum after that first failed test. Alesi, seeking more financial security for his young family, left to work for Boeing in the United States. Ross Paull took his place, and the team took up the challenge of finding their missing scramjet. Both the Royal Australian Air Force (which had sent a reconnaissance helicopter soon after the launch) and Paull’s own search-and-recovery efforts had been more search than recovery, until the University of Queensland kangaroo spotters signed on for the job. By a bizarre coincidence, the likely points of impact lay within their annual survey area.
The new recruits went airborne but saw little of note the first two days, aside from the extraordinary sight of Paull teetering on a stool set atop an upright oil drum, the entire ensemble strapped to the roof of the four-wheel-drive vehicle he and his brother were using for their concurrent ground search. Eventually, someone in the airplane spied a grounded rocket. But hopes were dashed as quickly as they’d been raised when, upon closer inspection, it turned out to belong to some mystery third party.
Finally, on the third day, their optimism now flagging, one of the zoologists spotted something resembling a rubbish dump. The absence of wheel tracks suggested it might have fallen from the sky. Zoologist Gordon Grigg radioed Paull and company, who raced to the sight. “We could tell from their body language it was the right one,” Grigg says. “Myles, the first to arrive on the scene, began pointing very excitedly and jumping up and down.”
An analysis of the wreckage helped the crew prepare their second prototype. They worked furiously to meet their self-imposed deadline of July 30, 2002, for the second launch. This time the Terrier-Orion Mk70 rocket did its job and took the scramjet into the upper atmosphere, where it kicked in 22 miles above Earth, reaching speeds of more than 5,000 mph before ramming into the ground.
No flawed leftovers for the kangeroo spotters to find this time.