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Sydney Uni contributes to development of more efficient satellite launch platform Image courtesy of Somchai Som at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The University of Sydney’s School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering says it is one step closer to developing a more efficient and cost-effective acess to space platform for satellite launches.

As part of the University’s Clean Combustion Group, Associate Professor Matthew Cleary, Associate Professor Ben Thornber, and Dr Dries Verstraete have joined the International Responsive Access to Space project, with the aim of building the world’s first successful rotating detonation engine to send payloads into space.

Led by DefendTex, the project was awarded a $3 million CRC-P grant in 2018 as a Federal Government investment into developing Australia’s space industry.

The project includes researchers from the University of Sydney, Universität der Bundeswehr München, the University of South Australia, RMIT, Defence Science and Technology Group and Innosync.

The university says Associate Professor Cleary’s group has focused its research on combustion and has initiated computational fluid dynamics simulations, with preliminary results demonstrating the efficacy of the rotating detonation engine.

The group also includes three aerospace engineering researchers who are working on launch system conceptual design and rotating detonation cycle performance and efficiency analysis.

“Since the project kicked off we have worked with our collaborators to develop new computational methods to investigate supersonic combustion, which is a process known as detonation,” Associate Professor Cleary said.

“Our preliminary findings from simulations of a model rotating detonation engine have led to some interesting findings about the stability of detonations in an annular channel, in particular with regard to the importance of designing the combustor geometry such that the detonation is stable and rocket thrust can be sustained continuously.

“This information is being fed to our collaborators who are now starting work on ground testing an engine,” he said.

While conventional rockets carry both oxygen and fuel onboard, the team has been researching methods for rockets to effectively collect oxygen from the atmosphere during lower atmospheric ascent.

“What’s exciting about rotating detonation engines is the potential to operate them in a so-called 'air breathing' mode. The purpose of this function is to reduce the mass of the launch vehicle and increase efficiency, reduce costs, and potentially allow for larger payloads, such as satellites,” Associate Professor Cleary said.

Professor Christian Mundt from the Universität der Bundeswehr München has been working closely with Associate Professor Cleary’s team and will be performing simulations to test the engine’s air breathing function.

“The propulsion concept of the rotating detonation engine is very promising for the future because of its cycle advantages — we are very glad to be part of this important research project,” said Professor Mundt.

With increased global investment in space technology and commercial satellites, Associate Professor Ben Thornber believes the project is well placed to make a substantive impact on Australia’s space economy.

“Our advancement of modelling of high-speed propulsion is directly aligned to Australia’s strategic investment in a space agency, and aims to enable Australian industry to access the small satellite launch market, which is valued at $16 billion over the next decade.”

DefendTex chief executive Travis Reddy believes the current research is on track to developing “a world first Rotating Detonation Engine capable of providing Australia’s first sovereign launch capability for Responsive Access to Space”.

The Responsive Access to Space project has been funded until 2021 and has attracted more than $4 million of cash and in-kind contributions from industry and university stakeholders.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

 

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