Hypersonic and high-speed flow research at UNSW Canberra investigates the gas dynamics of chemically reacting and real-gas flows. These inform the design of the hypersonic propulsion systems and planetary entry systems required to achieve practical hypersonic flight for high-speed aircraft. This is achieved by solving fundamental problems in aerothermodynamics, including the effects of chemical reactions and real-gas effects on laminar and turbulent flows of gas mixtures. 

These processes include separated flows, leading-edge bluntness effects, surface temperature effects, wake flows, and fluid-thermal-structural interactions. We investigate these processes using a combination of experimental, mathematical analysis, and numerical simulation.   

We have several significant research achievements, including: 

  • The first demonstration of laser ignition as a means of enhancing the supersonic combustion of hydrogen. 
  • The world’s fastest scanning absorption-based temperature measurements, capable of 1.6 million spectra (and hence temperature measurements) per second. 
  • Developing instrumented free-flight models for developing hypersonic control parameter databases for generic flight configurations. 
  • Developing resonantly enhanced shearing interferometry (RESI), a flow visualisation technique for low-density flows that increases sensitivity to density gradients by more than 100 times. 
  • First measurements of 2D two-component velocity distributions in hypersonic separated flows using a non-intrusive technique, resulting in advances in analytical modelling of these flows. 
  • Developing new non-intrusive technologies for measuring fundamental quantities such as diffusion coefficient and viscosity at rarefied conditions, where such measurements have previously proved too difficult to perform. 
  • We host a database of our own high-speed FSI unit cases and those of the international community. View the high-speed FSI unit cases.   

Competitive Advantage

We invested several decades to understanding the application of advanced laser-based diagnostic techniques to hypersonic flow measurements.  

  • We have one of very few facilities in the world with a suite of several non-intrusive measurement and visualisation techniques with the ability to generate conditions simulating high-speed flight. This makes our facility among the best understood and best characterised hypersonic facilities in the world.   
  • We also have other facilities including a supersonic wind tunnel for steady supersonic flows with Mach numbers 2 to 3, or a rectangular shock tube with a 150 mm x 75 mm cross-section, together with a suite of high-speed cameras (frame rates up to 10 million framers per second) combined with several different visualisation systems (schlieren, shadowgraph, shearing interferometry), which can be used individually or as combinations. 
  • We are capable of testing models with hot walls, to more realistically simulate real gas conditions of hypersonic entry and flight scenarios.   
  • Our combination of hypersonic and diagnostic expertise makes us a leading research group in the area of supersonic ignition and combustion processes. 
  • We have long-standing expertise in the design, simulation, and measurement of the thermal-structural behaviour of high-speed vehicles and propulsion systems. 
  • We have developed unique capabilities for the dynamic testing of critical aspects of hypersonic flight including:
    • fluid-thermal-structural interactions 
    • the use of tunnel-based free flight testing for the characterisation of the aerodynamic envelope of vehicle geometries and dynamic separations system in the loop testing of control approaches including fluidics. 

Successful Applications

  • We developed and flight-tested a hypersonic air-speed sensor that was simpler and more robust than previous designs, and survived accelerations over 20g in flight. 
  • Our patent for a laser-based subsonic airspeed sensor can be used to augment pitot tube measurements but is less susceptible to freezing than pitot tubes. 
  • Our separated flow velocity measurements are being used to validate state-of-the-art simulations of hypersonic separated flow, a problem that is notoriously difficult to both measure and simulate. 
  • Data from our instrumented free-flight tests are used to validate aerodynamic databases and inform control models for hypersonic vehicles. 
  • Our fluid-structural interaction measurements are used by international collaborators to validate their numerical simulations. 
  • We are currently investigating the effect of shock waves in the water on the tenderness and shelf life of high-value meats, an application showing the cross-disciplinary benefits of investigating high-speed flows. 

Hypersonic Turbulence - We are working in collaboration with the US Air Force Academy on making new high-speed measurement and theory of the transition from laminar to turbulent flow over simple shapes in hypersonic flow. This is one of the most challenging problems in classical aerospace engineering. 

We are actively involved in science and technology outreach including: 

  • the UNSW Canberra Young Women in Engineering (YoWIE) program 
  • the Royal Aeronautical Society  
  • the Cool Aeronautics program  
  • a variety of individual outreach activities in local schools. 

Study With Us

We offer courses in both hypersonic and gas-turbine engine theory at the undergraduate level, as well as a course in instrumentation. 

For further information please contact Sean O’Byrne or Andrew Neely.