Scramjet Research at UNSW Canberra


Researchers from UNSW Canberra and UNSW Sydney are participating in a new CRC-P project led by DefendTex Pty Ltd to develop new fuel ignition technologies for supersonic combustion of hydrocarbon fuel. The UNSW Canberra team was awarded $1.28 million over 3 years, out of a total of $2.48 million, from the Federal Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Programme (CRC-P). This Project will research the technologies necessary for a liquid-hydrocarbon-fuelled scramjet engine that can operate at the high speeds and temperatures experienced in supersonic flight.

Scramjet engines typically use hydrogen gas as their fuel. However, current aviation fuel infrastructure uses liquid hydrocarbon fuels to power existing jet engines. These fuels, which are much easier to handle and store than hydrogen, do not react quickly enough for the very high flow speeds used in a scramjet combustor: “The fuel and air in the engine don’t have time to react and generate thrust before they have left the engine”, explains UNSW Canberra group leader A/Prof Sean O’Byrne. 

New technologies are needed to make the air and fuel react rapidly. UNSW Canberra will be investigating new technologies to reduce this reaction time. The first method is like a laser spark plug, and the other is a very short-duration electrical pulse. O’Byrne’s group was the first to show the feasibility of laser spark ignition for supersonic combustors, both options will be tested in the UNSW Canberra hypersonic shock tunnel facility.

The partners in the consortium each bring different areas of expertise to solve this difficult research problem. The CRC-P Programme supports industry-led collaborations between industry, researchers and the community. DefendTex Pty Ltd, a Victorian-based research and development company, brings expertise in development and commercialisation of new Defence-related technologies. Prof Chun Wang from UNSW Sydney and A/Prof Andrew Neely from UNSW Canberra will work on the design and manufacturing of new high-temperature composite materials that can withstand the high heat experienced in hypersonic flight. Defence Science and Technology Group will provide flight integration expertise built up over a number of successful scramjet flight tests to integrate these technologies into an engine for flight-testing.

Through this collaborative project, the researchers aim to develop an ignition system that will work for scramjet engines using practical aviation fuels.