Australian and US scientists successfully launched a supersonic scramjet engine at an Outback test range Friday, as they work on a device that could revolutionise air travel. The researchers said a rocket carrying the scramjet reached speeds of mach 10 — ten times the speed of sound — after blasting off at the Woomera range in South Australia Friday.

They said it reached an altitude of 530 kilometres (330 miles) before the scramjet was successfully deployed following re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) said it was believed to be the first time a scramjet had been ignited within the Earth’s atmosphere.

"It looks like we’ve been very successful," DSTO spokesman Steve Butler told AFP. "We’ve got to go away and collate the data, that will take a few weeks, but it looks very promising."

Scramjets are supersonic combustion engines that use oxygen from the atmosphere for fuel, making them lighter and faster than fuel carrying rockets.

Scientists hope that one day a scramjet aircraft fired into space could cut travelling time from Sydney to London to as little as two hours.

"This technology has the potential to put numerous defence and civilian aerospace applications within our reach during the next couple of decades," DSTO scientist Warren Harch said.

Butler said they could also slash the cost of sending satellites into space, because their potential payload was much larger than a rocket carrying its own fuel.

DSTO carried out the experiment with scientists from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DSTO and the US Air Force next year launch a five-year programme testing scramjet technology at the Woomera range.

Via the Sydney Morning Herald