Scientists in Australia have successfully tested a new type of jet aircraft capable of reaching speeds of more than seven times the speed of sound, bringing the possibility of hypersonic travel one step closer to reality.
For a rocket or jet to be considered hypersonic, it has to be able to reach Mach 5, or at least five times the speed of sound.
The new aircraft, known as the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) 5B, not only broke through the Mach 5 mark, but easily reached Mach 7.5, or 5,760 miles per hour and an altitude of about 173.4 miles during its latest trial in the Australian desert.
Alex Zelinsky, the lead scientist working on the hypersonic aircraft, believes that once the device becomes available for launch by 2018, it could revolutionize international air travel and even prove to be a cost-effective way to access space.
Michael Smart, an expert in hypersonic technology from the University of Queensland and one of the developers of HIFiRE 5B, explained that with a hypersonic engine, people can travel across Earth at great distances very, very quickly.
Smart added that the technology they created can also serve as an ideal alternative to using rockets to send satellites into orbit.
Zelinsky and his colleagues plan to conduct 10 trials to fully test the capabilities of HIFiRE 5B, which has been fitted with a combustion engine that makes use of oxygen as its fuel. This helps make it significantly lighter compared to more traditional jets or rockets. The next trial is set for 2017.
The HIFiRE 5B aircraft is the product of combined efforts and resources between American and Australian military scientists. The project has also received support from the German space agency as well as the Boeing Company.
Once it is launched, HIFiRE 5B could transport passengers from Sydney, Australia to London, UK in under two hours.