D-Day has arrived for a team of Queensland scientists, with the Arctic launch of an Australian hypersonic jet imminent.
In the same week it was confirmed NASA's Voyager 1 probe had become the first product of human civilisation to leave the solar system, the University of Queensland team behind the "Scramspace" scramjet hope to add to the tally of scientific achievement.
A six-day window to launch Scramspace in the Arctic Circle opens on Sunday, which means a launch could happen at any time before September 21, subject to weather and testing.
All things going well, UQ hypersonics chairman and Scramspace director Russell Boyce said the launch could be as early as Monday.
"We've moved into a rest day with the scramjet and rocket motors sitting, looking magnificent on the launcher," he said on Saturday.
"Tomorrow will be the full rehearsal, and if all goes well, we expect to launch in bright sunshine on Monday."
The three-year, $14 million kamikaze mission will result in about three seconds' worth of data for the team of scientists.
But the data collected by the UQ team at Norway's Andøya Rocket Range, 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, will be a small but significant step towards hypersonic passenger aircraft and effective satellite delivery.
Rockets will propel the 1.8-metre scramjet out of the atmosphere, reaching a height of 320 kilometres above the earth's surface.
It will then plummet down to earth in what Professor Boyce described as a "hypersonic swan dive", reaching speeds of about 8600km/h – Mach 8 – before it disintegrates over the sea.
“The test period itself will last for just three seconds before the scramjet completely combusts, but the amount of data we can collect in those seconds is enormous,” Professor Boyce said.
At that speed, Scramspace could make the trip from Brisbane to Norway in less than two hours.
Professor Boyce said the team had arrived in Norway on Monday and had been testing systems and subsystems all week.
“The equipment is looking good. The payload is looking good. The weather is looking good. We're ready for launch," he said.
“The team can't wait to get started.”
The duty of pressing the launch button will fall to Scramspace technical director Sandy Tirtey, but not before a 3½ hour countdown and a 40-page launch procedure.
“The pressure is on, but the team is confident the Scramspace is technically and mechanically sound, and ready to fly,” he said.
Dr Tirtey said hypersonic passenger aircraft would theoretically be able to fly up to Mach 7 – more than 8500km/h.
“The hypersonic planes of the future will have a sharp shape such as the Concorde, but the nose will be the hottest part, as well as the edge of the wings," he said.
"So we need a different material to make these parts."
The Concorde, which has been out of service since 2003, had a cruising speed of about 2180 km/h.