United States and Australian defense officials conducted a joint test of a new missile platform capable of reaching hypersonic speeds earlier this month. The test featured the new HiFiRe Scramjet vehicle, which is said to be able to carry payloads at speeds in excess of six thousand miles per hour. A missile platform capable of such incredible speeds could allow for strikes on enemy targets with better reaction time than ever before.
The launch took place at Australia’s Woomera Test Range. Reports of a fireball in the night sky, high above the Australian outback poured in to local news outlets before Australian authorities announced the test. The HiFiRE program has undergone various tests since its inception in 2009, including some that included launching it using an S-30 rocket as its first stage.
Scramjet technology, like that employed by the HiFiRE, burns a combination of fuel and oxygen from the atmosphere inside an internal combustion chamber, and like a ramjet, it sucks that oxygen in from the air it passes through. However, unlike ramjets, the HiFiRE and similar applications reduce the speed of the incoming air to subsonic speeds, allowing for great engine efficiency, and in turn, the ability to reach hypersonic speeds. The same scramjet technology is also being developed as a propulsion system for the SR-72, a military aircraft slated to serve as the successor to the legendary SR-71 Blackbird. Defense officials have claimed that, using scramjet technology, the new plane could attain speeds as high as MACH 6.
In order to qualify as hypersonic, the missile must travel at speeds faster than MACH 5.5, or just below 4,220 miles per hour.