It currently takes almost an entire day to fly from London to Sydney – and more than that if you count transfers and airport wait times. But that flight length could be cut dramatically to just two hours, after a successful rocket test took the world a tantalising step closer to hypersonic commercial travel today.
The Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation programme (a mouthful-team made up of joint US and Australian researchers) carried out a successful experimental rocket test in the Woomera region of the South Australian desert today. It saw a test rocket reach an altitude of 278 kilometres and a target speed of Mach 7.5, according to Australia's defence department. It's aim was to measure exterior heat on the craft, which came in at the research team's expectations.
Technically, hypersonic flight only requires a vehicle travels at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) in order to be worthy of the "hypersonic" definition. So today's test marks a significant step beyond that.
"It is a game-changing technology... and could revolutionise global air travel, providing cost-effective access to space," scientist Alex Zelinsky said in a statement.
A series of 10 trials in total will be carried out, with some taking place at Norway's Andoya rocket range in addition to the Australian test centre.
The next flight test, scheduled for 2017, will involve a scramjet, a supersonic combustion engine, using oxygen from the atmosphere as a fuel source, making it lighter than those that require fossil fuels. As well as potentially transporting goods and passengers over the Earth, a scramjet could be used to launch satellites, too.
Testing is set to complete in 2018, after which we should have a more concrete idea of when we can pop out to do the shopping in Sydney and be back by tea time.