Feeds

NASA, USAF in $30m hypersonic boffinry push

Hot new technology

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

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.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.