29 March 2006

Scramjet Mach 7

Revolutionary jet engine tested
A new jet engine designed to fly at seven times the speed of sound appears to have been successfully tested. The scramjet engine, the Hyshot III, was launched at Woomera, 500km north of Adelaide in Australia, on the back of a two stage Terrier-Orion rocket. Once 314km up, the Hyshot III fell back to Earth, reaching speeds analysts hope will have topped Mach 7.6 (9,000km/h). It is hoped the British-designed Hyshot III will pave the way for ultra fast, intercontinental air travel.

An international team of researchers is presently analysing data from the experiment, to see if it met its objectives. The scientists and engineers had just six seconds to monitor its performance before the £1m engine crashed into the ground. Rachel Owen, a researcher from UK defence firm Qinetiq, which designed the scramjet, said it looked like everything had gone according to plan.

The vehicle had followed a "nominal trajectory" and landed 400km down the range, Ms Owen said.

A scramjet - or supersonic combustion ramjet - is mechanically very simple. It has no moving parts and takes all of the oxygen it needs to burn hydrogen fuel from the air. This makes it more efficient than a conventional rocket engine as it does not need to carry its own oxygen supply, meaning that a vehicle using one could potentially carry a larger payload. As the engine continues its downward path the fuel in the scramjet ignites automatically. This experiment was expected to start working at a height of 35km.

However scramjets do not begin to work until they reach five times the speed of sound. At this speed the air passing through the engine is compressed and hot enough for ignition to occur. Rapid expansion of the exhaust gases creates the forward thrust. Making sure the flight happens correctly is incredibly difficult, according to Dr Allan Paull, project leader of the Hyshot programme at the University of Queensland.

"You are dealing with extremes of conditions. You're working out on the edge and with a lot of the stuff no-one has ever tried before," he told the BBC News website. "You've got to expect things to go wrong".

Now, you start to combine this technology withe the happenings with small jet manufacturer's like the Eclipse mentioned in a previous posting adn you got the makings for some pretty cool technology for our kids.

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