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A team that includes NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is celebrating the successful launch of an experimental hypersonic scramjet research flight from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.
NASA, AFRL and Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) are working with a number of partners on the HIFiRE (Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation Program) program to advance hypersonic flight -- normally defined as beginning at Mach 5 -- five times the speed of sound. The research program is aimed at exploring the fundamental technologies needed to achieve practical hypersonic flight. Being able to fly at hypersonic speeds could revolutionize high speed, long distance flight and provide more cost-effective access to space.
"This is the first time we have flight tested a hydrocarbon-fueled scramjet accelerating from Mach 6 to Mach 8," said NASA Hypersonics Project Scientist Ken Rock, based at NASA'S Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "At Mach 6 the inlet compression and combustion process was designed to reduce the flow to below Mach 1 -- subsonic combustion. But at Mach 8 flight the flow remained greater than Mach 1 or supersonic throughout the engine. So this test will give us unique scientific data about scramjets transitioning from subsonic to supersonic combustion -- something we can't simulate in wind tunnels."
A scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) is a variant of a ramjet airbreathing jet engine in which combustion takes place in supersonic airflow. As in ramjets, a scramjet relies on high vehicle speed to forcefully compress and decelerate the incoming air before combustion (hence ramjet), but whereas a ramjet decelerates the air to subsonic velocities before combustion, airflow in a scramjet is supersonic throughout the entire engine.
This allows the scramjet to efficiently operate at extremely high speeds: theoretical projections place the top speed of a scramjet between Mach 12 (9,100 mph; 15,000 km/h)and Mach 24 (18,000 mph; 29,000 km/h).[not verified in body] The fastest air-breathing aircraft is a SCRAM jet design, the NASA X-43A which reached Mach 9.8. For comparison, the second fastest air-breathing aircraft, the manned SR-71 Blackbird, has a cruising speed of Mach 3.2 (2,100 mph).
The research program is aimed at exploring the fundamental technologies needed to achieve practical hypersonic flight. Being able to fly at hypersonic speeds could revolutionize high speed, long distance flight and provide more cost-effective access to space.
While scramjets are conceptually simple, actual implementation is limited by extreme technical challenges. Hypersonic flight within the atmosphere generates immense drag, and temperatures found on the aircraft and within the engine can be much greater than that of the surrounding air. Maintaining combustion in the supersonic flow presents additional challenges, as the fuel must be injected, mixed, ignited, and burned within milliseconds. While scramjet technology has been under development since the 1950s, only very recently have scramjets successfully achieved powered flight.
Originally posted by PerfectPerceptionThe conspiracy theorist in me says 'if this is what they are willing to show us,imagine what they have behind closed doors,away from the public and prying eyes'