Feeds

X-51 hypersonic scramjet test: Flameout at Mach 5?

Boffins still 'ecstatic' after 3-minute strato-streak

Top three mobile application threats

US government aerospace agencies have achieved the world's first hypersonic scramjet flight using hydrocarbon fuel. The test did not go perfectly, but further flights will follow; organisers said they were "ecstatic" with progress thus far.

Concept graphic of the Waverider in flight, during rocket boost. Credit: AFNS

Shockwave riding supersonic-combustion-ramjet hypersonic hotness.

The X-51A "Waverider" craft was dropped from a modified B-52 bomber test mothership 50,000 feet above Point Mugu sea firing range off the California coast at about 6pm last night UK time (10am local). Four seconds later a rocket booster taken from a tactical missile fired, accelerating the Waverider to Mach 4.5 before being jettisoned. The airframe doesn't work like a normal aeroplane: it actually surfs on the sonic shockwaves trailing back from its nose, hence its name.

The hypersonic X-51A ignited, burning a mixture of ethylene and JP-7 jet fuel, and once well alight switched over to all-jetfuel operation. Normal turbojets can't operate at hypersonic speeds; the Waverider is a ramjet, whose intake air is simply scooped in at the front due to its speed rather than being crammed in by compressor blades.

But normal ramjets have to slow that air down to subsonic speed inside themselves so as to avoid blowing out the flame in their combustion chamber. This limits them to a top speed of perhaps Mach 3.5. The Waverider, though, is a scramjet - a supersonic combustion ramjet - which lets the air blow through it supersonically. It is thought by its designers to be capable of burning for 300 seconds to reach Mach 6.

The X-51A didn't fulfil that potential yesterday, however. Having lit up it burned for around 200 seconds, reaching approximately Mach 5 and climbing to 70,000 feet. According to a statement issued by Boeing (whose Phantom Works plant built the Waverider):

Something then occurred that caused the vehicle to lose acceleration. At that point, the X-51A was terminated as planned.

It's possible to speculate that the flame in the Waverider's SJY61 scramjet, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, simply blew out. Project officials are still happy with the test, and seem confident that they will be able to achieve the designed speed before running out of test craft - there are three more.

"We are ecstatic to have accomplished most of our test points on the X-51A's very first hypersonic mission," said Charlie Brink, X-51A honcho at the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

"No test is perfect," he added. "But anyone will tell you that we learn just as much, if not more, when we encounter a glitch."

3 Big data security analytics techniques

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
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
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.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.