Friday, June 18, 2010

X-51A Waverider: It's Just the Beginning

"Air Force Sees Hypersonic Weapons and Spaceships in Future" (June 17, 2010)

"A recent United States Air Force scramjet test has hinted at a future where hypersonic vehicles streak through the sky at many times the speed of sound around the world, and perhaps even open up access to space.

"The experimental X-51A Waverider used a rocket booster and an air-breathing scramjet to reach a speed of Mach 5 and achieve the longest hypersonic flight ever powered by such an engine on May 26. That technology might not only deliver cargo quickly to different parts of the globe, but could also transform the space industry and spawn true space planes that take off and land from the same runway...."

There's nothing particularly new in this article - but it's a pretty good retrospective/review of hypersonic flight, from Lockheed's supersonic SR-71 Blackbird (supersonic, yes - hypersonic, no) to the X-51A Waverider.

And a pretty good discussion of the sort of technology it'll take to turn vehicles like the X-51A Waverider from interesting experiments into practical transports.

The military applications get discussed - as well as what spaceplanes could do in civilian work. I'm not all that upset that 'the military' is involved. Sure, it'd be nice if everybody would always be nice: but judging from the 4,000 or so years of history, that's not going to happen any time soon. ("Four Millennia of Human Nature: I Think Qoheleth is Right," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (August 3, 2009))

I'm particularly interested in the last year's developments in hypersonic flight. We're a long way from having routine commercial service to low Earth orbit: but that seems a lot closer now, than it did just 12 months ago.

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