Experimental Scramjet aircraft set for test flight

Mar 23, 2011 By Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
Artists concept of the X-51A Waverider. Credit: US Air Force

The X-51A Waverider hypersonic scramjet project is set for its second test flight today, and the U.S. Air Force hopes it will demonstrate technology that can eventually be used for more efficient transport of payloads into orbit. The craft will be carried to 15,240 meters (50,000 ft.) by a B-52 from Edwards Air Force Base in California, and be dropped over the Pacific Ocean. A booster rocket will fire, getting the Waverider to Mach 4.5; then the scramjet will kick in, and designers hope it will reach Mach 6 or more.

The X-51 Waverider program is a cooperative effort of the Air Force, , , Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.

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In May 2010, the first test of the vehicle had a kind sort of a “successful” flight of 200 seconds of autonomous flight, which set a duration record for an aircraft powered by a scramjet (short for “supersonic combustion ramjet”) engine. However, it was hoped that the X-51A would fly for as long as 300 seconds (or 5 minutes) and reach Mach 6. But during that flight, the Waverider suddenly lost acceleration, and the vehicle was “terminated” (destroyed – as planned, the said) while moving at Mach 5. The loss of acceleration was attributed to a design flaw, which led to hot exhaust gas leaking from the engine into electronics bays.

The scramjet is an air-breathing engine, where intake air blows through its combustion chamber at supersonic speeds. This has been compared to lighting a match in a hurricane, and the concept has had limited success. The engine has no moving parts, and the oxygen needed by the engine to combust is taken from the atmosphere passing through the vehicle, instead of from a tank onboard, making the craft smaller, lighter and faster. Designers say it could reach speeds of anywhere from Mach 12 to Mach 24. Mach 24 is more than 29,000 km/hour (18,000 miles per hour.) This could cut an 18-hour trip to Tokyo from New York City to less than 2 hours.

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User comments : 17

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bg1
3.6 / 5 (7) Mar 23, 2011
"This could cut an 18-hour trip to Tokyo from New York City to less than 2 hours."

I doubt this will ever be used for ordinary payloads, like passengers. 18,000 mph is orbital velocity, so this could be a lower cost way of getting stuff into orbit, since you don't need to carry any oxidizer, except what's in the booster.
that_guy
4 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2011
"This could cut an 18-hour trip to Tokyo from New York City to less than 2 hours."

I doubt this will ever be used for ordinary payloads, like passengers. 18,000 mph is orbital velocity, so this could be a lower cost way of getting stuff into orbit, since you don't need to carry any oxidizer, except what's in the booster.


1. Although the technology is very primitive right now, the concept of a scramjet could be ideal for passengers if it is possible to get it right. By the nature of screamjets, you could theoretically get more energy per unit of fuel than a jet engine.

as far as getting something in space...a scramjet needs oxygen from the atmosphere, so you would definitely need an oxidizer for orbital insertion and any post atmospheric maneuvering. escape velocity is only part of getting out.
flying_finn
1 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2011
Is this the animal responsible for the "puffy" contrail?
Chef
not rated yet Mar 23, 2011
@flying finn... I think you are referring to the contrails that were made by the alleged Aurora Project. Supposedly it uses a pulse drive which creates the puffed contrails. The aircraft has never been officially declared nor shown. Also, it is not known if the Aurora and the TR-3B aircraft are one in the same.
retrosurf
1 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2011
This is the Air Force. The only things they are looking to deliver at mach 20 using a scramjet are measured in kilotons of TNT.
Jo01
not rated yet Mar 24, 2011
"This could cut an 18-hour trip to Tokyo from New York City to less than 2 hours."

Must be 33 minutes instead of 2 hours.

J.
TrustTheONE
3 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2011
space elevator is the solution to put large payloads in space.
Buyck
2 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2011
The constant acceleration of that experimental rocket or plane if you like is way to fast for ordinary people. How much g-force must that be 10-25 i think even more... Its way to much to sit comfortable and drink a cup of thee or read a paper.
Modernmystic
not rated yet Mar 24, 2011
The constant acceleration of that experimental rocket or plane if you like is way to fast for ordinary people. How much g-force must that be 10-25 i think even more... Its way to much to sit comfortable and drink a cup of thee or read a paper.


Uh no. Something accelerating at a constant .2 G will travel 31,000 miles in 2 hours. Very comfortable...
TabulaMentis
not rated yet Mar 24, 2011
This tech is better than the Space Shuttle.
Modernmystic
not rated yet Mar 24, 2011
This tech is better than the Space Shuttle.


Indeed, I agree. The rockets we used in the 60s were better tech than the shuttle from both a safety and cost effectiveness perspective.

Just because something is more complicated doesn't mean it's better. In this case however, it's clearly a leap ahead.
TabulaMentis
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
If or when these scramjets are used to go into outer space I wonder what tech will be used to prevent reentry into earth's atmosphere from burning up the spacecraft? Ceramic tiles are too troublesome.
Canman
not rated yet Mar 26, 2011
ok, today is the 26th, March 2011. Any follow up on this? Did they launch? What happened?
flying_finn
not rated yet Mar 27, 2011
Update............... http://www.upi.co...0450490/
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 27, 2011
I think this is more promising for orbital flight:

http://en.wikiped...es_SABRE

It's a jet engine that works up to MACH 5.5 with an intake cooler, and then turns into a rocket engine by shutting the intake and pumping liquid oxygen into the jet. The same engine can take it from sea level to orbit - no boosters required.

The experimental heat exchanger has achieved heat exchange of almost 1 GW/m³, believed to be a world record. Small sections of a real precooler, referred to as modules, now exist.
IcePowder
not rated yet Mar 27, 2011
Escape velocity at what altitude?
douglas_daniel
not rated yet Apr 12, 2011
Does anyone know when this flight has been re-scheduled for?

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