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Local company wins $8m to build spaceplane prototype

written by Isabella Richards | May 10, 2022

The Hypersonix Launch Systems spaceplane concept. (Hypersonix)

Hypersonix Launch Systems has secured $8 million in government grants to develop and launch its zero-emissions spaceplane technology demonstrator.

The Australian company has recently won a slew of government funding and now has successfully bagged this grant from the Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) Defence Translation stream.

Set to launch in 2023, the 3D-printed DART AE (additive engineering) is a prototype spaceplane the company is building to validate its technology.

“The team is extremely proud that our MMI grant application for the build and launch of DART AE has been successful,” Michael Smart, CTO, head of R&D and co-founder of Hypersonix, said.

The end goal is for Hypersonix to build a spaceplane, called the Delta Velos Orbiter, which will be capable of deploying small satellites into low-Earth orbit as a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to rockets.

But before Delta Velos is ready for commercial use, Hypersonix will work on a series of small proof-of-concept launch vehicles, such as DART AE, to demonstrate the spaceplane’s success, and this grant will help make that happen.

DART AE is powered by one scramjet engine, with a range of 1,000 kilometres.

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A scramjet is an engine in which airflow through it remains supersonic, or greater than the speed of sound. Hypersonix’s version, the SPARTAN, is a hydrogen-fuelled scramjet, enabling the spaceplane to be powered by carbon neutral propulsion.

Smart added that the grant gives Hypersonix the “necessary funding to quickly progress our core scramjet technology that has been fully developed in Australia”.

Hypersonix said that since announcing the demonstrator in November 2021, global interest in the local company has grown.

“With Hypersonix Launch Systems being awarded this major grant, the Hypersonix team is ‘over the moon’ and the MMI grant will provide a catalyst to our growth in Australia and ability to grow Australia’s export market in this key area of aerospace technology,” said David Waterhouse, managing director and co-founder of Hypersonix.

If successful, it would become the first Australian-designed spaceplane, and one of the very few – such as NASA’s Space Shuttle and Boeing’s X-37 – to become a commercial reality.

The spaceplane company believes key factors of the Orbiter being demonstrated by DART AE “are scalability of manufacture, reliability, cost effectiveness and high cadence of manufacture, enabling multiple low-cost launches in a short time frame”.

The news also comes after Hypersonix won $2.95 million in funding to develop a composite version of the DART AE in March, as another technology demonstrator.

Unlike DART AE, which is built with 3D-printed high temperature alloys that are already readily available in Australia, DART CMP requires materials not yet locally accessible.

According to the company, the 3D-printed DART AE technology demonstrator will feature a single SPARTAN scramjet engine, but both the Delta Velos Demonstrator and the Delta Velos Orbiter will be powered by four.

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