Monday, November 2, 2009

Hypersonic Vehicles: Waveriders to Space

"Hypersonic Vehicle Applications"

"Now that we have explored the properties of hypersonic flows, hypersonic aerodynamics, and theoretical waverider designs, you may be wondering if any vehicle utilizing these concepts has or ever will fly. We will now discuss a few of the more common applications of hypersonic vehicles...."

The "more common applications" include:
  • XB-70 Valkyrie
  • National Aerospace Plane (NASP) and X-30
  • X-43 Hyper-X
  • LoFlyte
    • "...designed using a Mach 5.5 conical flowfield, ... not actually capable of flying at hypersonic speeds..."
    • Used to test low-speed control systems for hypersonic vehicles
This page/article is part of the "Hypersonic Waveriders" section on's1 website.

"Hypersonic"? What's That?

"...The general rule of thumb is that the hypersonic regime begins at about Mach 5...." In other words, "hypersonic" speeds start at around five times the speed of sound.

Hypersonic vehicles aren't all that new. Design work started in the fifties. The XB-70 prototypes cruised at about Mach 3 - well under the Mach 5 low end of hypersonic flight: but used many features that a hypersonic transport would have.

I found this article with a Google search - hypersonic aircraft design - while doing some research for another blog. Some of what I found was clearly on the 'hard science fiction - fantasy' continuum. On the other hand, some of the weirder-looking designs are what serious engineers are working on.

You'll find "Mach 5 - 25" used as a speed range in a number of (serious) articles on hypersonic flight. That's impressive, since at around Mach 23, you're at orbital velocity for low Earth orbits.

One of the serious - and exciting - possibilities is that, after some rather tough engineering issues are worked out, it will be possible to fly from a commercial airport to low Earth orbit and back. In an aircraft that takes off and lands pretty much the same way airliners do now. Using air-breathing engines for most of the flight.

These spaceplanes won't look much like a Boeing 747. Some hypersonic vehicle designs look like gargantuan arrowheads, others like a block of wood that's been used to demonstrate planing techniques in a high school shop class.

As I've said before, these are exciting times.

Related posts:
1 " is a non-profit site operated by engineers and scientists in the aerospace field. The goal of this site is to provide educational information on a variety of subjects ranging from aviation to space travel to aerospace technology. Our primary areas of expertise include aerodynamics, propulsion systems, vehicle design, engineering career information, and aerospace history. Learn more about these and other topics by visiting the following sections of our site."

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