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China Space Earth Transportation News Science Technology

China Starts Developing Hybrid Hypersonic Spaceplane (popsci.com) 90

hackingbear quotes a report from Popular Science: While SpaceX is making news with its recoverable rockets, China announced that it is working on the next big thing in spaceflight: a hypersonic spaceplane. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is beginning advanced research on a high tech, more efficient successor to the retired Space Shuttle, with hybrid combined cycle engines combining turbofan, ramjet, scramjet and rocket engines, that can takeoff from an airport's landing strip and fly straight into orbit. CASTC's rapid research timeline also suggests that the reports in 2015 of a Mach 4 test flight for a recoverable drone testbed for a combined cycle ramjet/turbofan engine were accurate. And China also has the world's largest hypersonic wind tunnel, the Mach 9 JF-12, which could be used to easily test hypersonic scramjets without costly and potentially dangerous flight testing at altitude. Its nearest competitor, the British Skylon in contrast uses pre-cooled jet engines built by Reaction Engines Limited to achieve hypersonic atmospheric flight, as opposed to scramjets. Both spacecraft will probably first fly around the mid 2020s.
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China Starts Developing Hybrid Hypersonic Spaceplane

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    You could have funded Skylon for more than the chicken feed you handed them, you could have led the world in SSTO systems and exported the technology globally like you did with nuclear power generation and passenger jets. Now the Chinese are going to knock something up in 4 years and you'll be left with a footnote in the history of human space exploration as an "also ran"

    • If Skylon has so much promise, it shouldnt have any issues getting commercial funding.

      • That's a very good point with only two downsides:
        1. The works doesn't work like that
        And
        2. The works doesn't work like that.

    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      The problem is the numbers don't work. If those hybrid space planes get to orbit at all they're going to do it without any appreciable cargo. Why fund something like that?
      • They are just throwing money at something which may eventually be used in a cruise missile or intercontinental bomber down the line.

  • Only one sentence in the whole article mentioning hardening against reentry heating. It glosses right over how exposed combined-cycle engines could be expected to survive this.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Why do they have to be exposed during reentry? Plenty of space vehicles have had external portions that could never survive the conditions the heat shielding has to withstand. It's a matter of not exposing them to that relatively high pressure high speed airflow and hiding them behind something that can cope.
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Saturday August 13, 2016 @06:34AM (#52695689)

    We're been dreaming about this ever since the 70ies. I remember as a Kid - both my father and grandpa worked for and with Nasa - seeing the SÃnger concepts.

    We'd leapfrog SpaceX if this would finally happen, but I'm not holding my breath. This is difficult. Really difficult. But cool if the chinks can make it happen. Two thumbs up for the attempt.

    My 2 Eurocents.

    • How about switching to unicode, dear Slashdot Team. It's 2016, for chrissakes. Or is this just mobile? 'Sänger' is the Name. (Let's hope HTML Umlaut renders correctly .... It's like 10 years ago that I last had to use these)

  • The real question is, however, can idea be realised as a reliable spaceplane? For as long as I can remember I have been reading about bold new technologies that would change the world. Few of them turned into successful products though. Controlled nuclear fusion - nope. Supersonic civil airplanes - nope. The space elevator - nope. The electric car - well, maybe, not sure yet. Etc. Clearly, the devil is in the details and to turn a good idea into a reliable product sometimes is horribly complex and exp
  • If you're not employing megnetoplasmadynamic engines with potassium seeded helium propellant, I'm not interested.
  • I guess China has finally stolen enough ideas, tech and infrastructure that they feel confident enough to try something like this.

  • I hope they are right, I really do. Its just that I'm old enough to have seen dozens of these ideas appear, get hyped, the disappear. Anyone remember NASP? So far though, the only things that works to get to orbit are conventional rockets. SpaceX is making a lot of progress there.

  • The credulous piece by Popular Mechanics just relays the Chinese government's propaganda.

    Nobody can get SCRAM-jot to work for than a few minutes. RAM-jets are hard enough. You need to be up to at least Mach 3 for a RAM-jet to even ignite.

    TFA describes a multi-type jet + RAM-jet + SCRAM-jet engine that adjusts the intake cowling to "transition" from jet-powered supersonic flight to RAM-jet powered supersonic flight, and so on.

    The biggest point that the article missed is that a SCRAM-jet relies on oxygen i

    • Read TFA again. Nobody claimed it would go to LEO on scramjet

      Chinese combined cycle engines like this blueprint would be paired with a scramjet (presumably via changing the ramjet) and a separate rocket motor to create a hypersonic space plane.

      • It still makes zero sense for space launch. Instead of one rocket engine you need like three engines. A jet engine to get it to Mach 3, then a ramjet/scramjet to get to Mach 5 or Mach 8 (depends on the engine), and in addition to that a rocket engine. You could use two engines, in theory, by combining the jet engine with the ramjet/scramjet but then the engine needs to have variable geometry like a Transformer. Because you spend more time in the atmosphere the exterior skin of the whole vehicle needs active

        • The parent claimed this is propaganda because it violates the principle that LEO altitude has no air for an air-breathing scramjet engine. But he's apparently trolling since the engine could be a serial combination of the different ones in a neat way; or it could have a separate rocket engine; or whatever, but nobody claimed its scramjet mode operate all the way to LEO.

  • A new space race would be awesome.

  • ...when they've built the "first" of anything that hasn't been researched, developed, and likely designed by someone else such that they simply stole the plans, connected a few lines, and built it domestically.

    They can't really even build a decent jet engine themselves.

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