DRDL plans to test `scramjet' engine

Bangalore Jan. 1. The Defence Research Development Laboratory, the Hyderabad-based DRDO unit, is planning to build a flight test vehicle for a `scramjet' engine, sources said. Scramjets are air breathing engines which use the oxygen in the air sucked from the atmosphere to burn fuels, usually liquid hydrogen, while moving at supersonic speeds.

The DRDL project would be similar to a project named HyShot, in which Australian aerospace researchers at the University of Queensland successfully tested the first supersonic ignition in the atmosphere, on July 30, 2002, sources said.

The DRDL's flight test vehicle, which would take the scramjet to the required height could be ready as early as 2007, sources said. Scramjet stands for Supersonic Combustion Jet.

Scramjets have attracted scientists and governments of several nations for at least two decades for two things. First, if the technology becomes proven on an aircraft, it could make a transport aircraft, much faster than the passenger-carrying Concorde, a reality.

The second and perhaps the greater attraction is a possible "single stage to orbit" scramjet aircraft that would put satellites in a low orbit around the earth. What's more, the engine would be reusable. All this however is mostly at the experimental stage.

In August 2002, after analysing the data from the July flight at Woomera in South Australia, the ecstatic scientists announced that the engine had reached Mach 7.6, or 7.6 times the speed of sound. The test over the central Australian desert was the first time a supersonic scramjet engine worked outside an air tunnel. The team fired the scramjet engine into the sky on the back of a Terrier Orion Mk70 rocket, which took it into the upper atmosphere. The engine ignited on the way back down at 35 km above the earth, with data transmitted by radio until it began to burn up.

A year ago, the U.S. space agency NASA's test of its multi-million dollar unmanned X-43A scramjet prototype failed. If DRDL's efforts succeed, it may put India on the scramjet map of the world.

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