Feeds

NASA, USAF in $30m hypersonic boffinry push

Hot new technology

SANS - Survey on application security programs

The US air force and NASA have launched a joint research push to advance hypersonic flight technology. The air force research lab and space agency are seeking university and industry partners, and are offering $30m in funding.

Hypersonic for this purpose is defined as five times the speed of sound or faster. Thus far, very few vehicles have operated in such flight regimes. In general, when seeking to move extremely fast around the world, it is more normal to lift a craft out of the atmosphere on a rocket - as in the case of intercontinental missiles. A few jet aircraft can briefly exceed Mach 3 (the MiG-25 Foxbat interceptor could do so just once if required, knackering its engines in the process), and the famous turbo-ramjet SR-71 "Blackbird" Cold War spyplane could reach such speeds repeatedly. But so far no known runway-landing, air-breathing plane has beaten Mach 4.

"We have identified three critical research areas: Air-breathing propulsion, materials and structures, and boundary layer control," said James Pittman, top NASA hypersonics boffin, in a statement released yesterday.

"These three areas are the biggest hurdles to successful hypersonic flight and low-cost space access using an air-breathing engine."

NASA has longed hoped to develop reliable aircraft which could take off and land on runways, and fly many times faster than sound while still inside the atmosphere using air-breathing engines. Such planes would avoid one of the big problems of today's orbital-launch rockets - the need to carry oxidiser as well as fuel. An airbreather engine could instead use oxygen from the atmosphere, saving large amounts of weight.

The hope is that re-usable hypersonic space planes of tomorrow might accelerate almost to orbital speed needing very little oxidiser, perhaps mainly using relatively ordinary jet fuel rather than exotic rocket juice. All this could cut down the present enormous costs of access to space - or alternatively allow the military's missiles, planes etc. to go a lot faster.

But the problems of getting fuel to burn in a hypersonic airstream are huge, and so is the matter of preventing an airframe from simply melting when shoved through relatively dense air at terrific speed. Then, as Pittman says, there's the matter of boundary layer control - preventing dangerous turbulence developing close to the speeding aircraft, which could easily wreck it or send it out of control.

The Pentagon's famous bad-boy scientists, DARPA* - who slap the pendulous jowls of established wisdom with the gauntlet of disregard - had previously suggested that all these issues could be sorted out on the fly. DARPA's wingnut-boffins reckoned they should be given $750m from 2009 to get on with building a runway hyperjet which would be able to barrel-roll at Mach 6. However, sceptical politicos on Capitol Hill have given the so-called "Blackswift" project a severe trimming, making near-future success even more doubtful than it would be ordinarily.

It now appears that NASA and the USAF reckon to commit relatively minor funds to basic research before starting work on any actual aircraft. There's more on becoming a National Hypersonic Science Center and getting hold of the grant money here. ®

* The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Melting permafrost switches to nasty, high-gear methane release
Result? 'Way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane'
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.