back to article Fastest-ever hydrocarb scramjet hits Mach 8, doesn't explode

The successful test launch of the hydrocarbon-fuelled scramjet HIFire 2 by the US brings mankind a step closer to practical travel at over five times the speed of sound. Reliable hypersonic transportation could revolutionise trips to space and across the globe, but sustained flight at such speed is difficult: several test …

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  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Joke

    Now that is rocket science!

    Still like blowing things up though

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Now that is rocket science!

      What you'll probably find is, that those engines don't have that many useful applications other than blowing things up quickly and far away. Oh, this wasn't covered by Lewis? Maybe I'm wrong.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Now that is rocket science!

      THIS IS BOGUS ITS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANYTHING TO TRAVEL FASTER THAN SOUND

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Now that is rocket science!

      Well, it's not... these are jet engines, i.e. air-breathers. Rockets carry their own oxidizers.

    4. Franklin
      Coat

      Re: Now that is rocket science!

      Well, rocket engineering, really. Which is a lot harder, as it turns out, than rocket science.

  2. wobblestar
    Thumb Up

    Get one of these for LOHAN

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Lester has been suspiciously quiet about the new propulsion hasn't he?

    2. annodomini2
      Thumb Down

      LOHAN is designed to operate well into the upper atmosphere, I doubt there would be enough air for it to operate.

      1. ridley

        At Lohans operating altitude, when travelling at mach 6-8 there will be more than enough air passing into the engines for it to work. These engines are designed to work at these and higher altitudes.

        1. annodomini2

          Unfortunately...

          LOHAN being lofted by a balloon won't be going mach 6.

          Reports state that it reached a max altitude of 109,000ft, however it doesn't give the engines operating altitude.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    cool

    Cool but for us mere peons it will only mean you get to your airport queue's faster.

  4. Martin Huizing
    Mushroom

    Makes you think though...

    North Korea gets penalized for firing a rocket but when America does it (after dropping 2 nukes on civilians, has a long history of hydrogen bomb and nuke testing plus invading a country under false pretenses), nobody cares that this technology can (and will) be used in WMD's.

    I get it though, really I do. I just wish big countries would stop being bullies, grow up and play nice together before we are all blown to smithereens.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Makes you think though...

      Much as I worry about the US I don't think they are comparable to North Korea....

      1. Chimp

        Re: Makes you think though...

        Right. North Korea has a long history of invading sovereign states on paper thin pretexts, assassination and torture.

        Erm, we were talking about....

        Yes, which of these two countries is the more worrying.

        1. laird cummings

          @Chimp 15 May 2012 16:01 GMT

          We're talking about fantasies revolving around weapons of mass destruction; Do try to stay on topic, M'kay?

          BTW: Your handle? Exactly correct.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Facepalm

        Re: Makes you think though...

        Too right. I've lost count of the countries North Korea has attacked, over the past few decades.

        1. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Makes you think though...

          Only because its neighbors would roll it. NK would make Sadam look like a peaceful neighbor if they weren't so much less developed than their neighbors.

        2. Denarius Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Makes you think though... NOPE

          ask the japanese civilians abducted for NK spy program training if NK attacks other countries. NK ship carrying addictive drugs off Oz also. Social attacks are attacks, just not with guns.

          SK also has a slight problem with attacks from their neighbour. The yanks have problems as a culture, but aside from their multinationals, mad bankers and deluded talk/radio show hosts, have been remarkably restrained as a world power.

    2. Jonathan White
      WTF?

      Re: Makes you think though...

      'Nobody cares that this technology can (and will) be used in WMD's'.

      You're right, nobody cares. But then when (from that perspective) the story is 'country which already has ICBMS that can kill anyone anywhere on the planet in minutes tests new rocket which is slightly slower and shorter range' they're not exactly likely to are they?

      Jesus.

    3. Nigel 11
      Thumb Down

      Re: Makes you think though...

      There are already several ways of delivering WMDs that are already deployed. Rockets (ICBMs), Bombers, Cruise Missiles. What need is there for a new delivery system?

      1. John70

        Re: Makes you think though...

        "There are already several ways of delivering WMDs that are already deployed. Rockets (ICBMs), Bombers, Cruise Missiles. What need is there for a new delivery system?"

        Orbital Weapons Platform.

        Nuke them from orbit. Only way to be sure.

    4. Nigel 11

      Re: Makes you think though...

      So what is the military use? I'd have thought that if they can make the technology reliable, it's for delivering conventional explosives onto mobile targets ... this thing may be too fast to intercept and too fast to move when you spot it coming.

      But also a good step towards Earth to Orbit without needing huge expensive rockets to lift fairly small payloads. Ultimately, this might lead to a genuine spaceplane, if HOTOL doesn't get there first .

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Makes you think though...

      There is a minor, insignificant detail here.

      In USA there is a well known power structure in front of the "Launch" button. At least that is the case most of the time. It is more or less clear what drives it and what are the circumstances when it may push it. Ditto for Russia & France. It is less so for China, but even in that case we can do some extrapolations based on known facts and past behaviour. Ditto for India though I'd rather not go into what is the "power structure" there and what drives it.

      So when one of these countries tests the latest S400 missile, the latest scramjet or just fires a plain old ICBM like India did recently that does not really upset the balance. It is, yeah, so what, yawn, news at 10...

      The difference between these and North Korea rulers however, is that North Korea Kim dinasty are like a macaque with a hand grenade. You have no f*** idea where he will throw it and will he pull the ring or not before throwing it. To make matters worse you have no idea who really the macaque in charge of the troop is on this particular day. In addition to that if you extrapolate from past behavior and known facts your most "happy thought" will be that the macaque has been bitten by a rabid dog more than once.

      1. Martin Huizing
        Mushroom

        Re: Makes you think though...

        Yes, I agree with you. Hence me stating that I understand the situation.

        I am watching 'Dr. Strangelove' as I type and I feel history is repeating itself. The Communist threat then is the North Koreans' now. I believe NK people are being oppressed, starved and ruled by a puppet master hiding behind a cloak of a giant military force ruled by but a few, but I am also aware of the continuous negativity in which NK is being portrayed. As I have never visited NK, all information I have been receiving has been from sources keen on making NK look like the worst place on earth.

        A bit like Communist Russia was portrayed during the cold war, don't you think?

        Before you ask, 'yes' I have seen the BBC docu on NK and I feel deeply for the people, but in war those same people would fight harder for their country then any other. They can't help it...

      2. Chimp

        Re: Makes you think though...

        Classic deterrence strategy for a small nuclear power faced by overwhelming external threats.

    6. laird cummings
      Mushroom

      Makes you think though..? No, it doesn't.

      The USA has had nukes for almost 70 years. If your paranioa were based on anything other than rather dated groupthink, you'd stop to notice that there's been precisely two combat uses of nukes, and that at the very end of a long and devestating declared war.

      Hardly the things of which proper paranoid fantasies are built. Do try harder, next time.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pizza deliveries - New York to London

    Still hot, make sure you have the correct money!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pizza deliveries - New York to London

      Or British curries to Australia ! Still hot.

    2. qwertyuiop
      WTF?

      Re: Pizza deliveries - New York to London

      Why would you order your pizza from New York? If you want REAL pizza then you order it from its birthplace - Naples.

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: Pizza deliveries - New York to London

        surely the island of Dominos?

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Pizza deliveries - New York to London

        The noise these things would make would have the the local of Naples running not for the hills, anywhere but the hills!

        1. Denarius Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Pizza deliveries - New York to London

          noise ??? at 50000 B52s are nearly silent to ground based listeners. at 80,000 SR71 is silent at Mach 3 to ground dwellers. At 109,000 at any mach these things would be effectively silent unless they were the size of a battleship.

      3. pjosephson

        Re: Pizza deliveries - New York to London

        Pizza originates from Greece not Naples.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But wish .........

    my Broadband was faster.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But wish .........

      Well, if they can do TCP/IP over carrier pidgeons...

  7. frank ly Silver badge

    More information please

    How does current hydrogen fuel usage compare to hydrocarbons in terms of energy per stored kilogram, or on a stored volume basis?

    Re. supersonic combustion: I thought that all 'jet' engines had supersonic airflow in the combustion chamber, which is why the burning fuel doesn't 'explode' out from the front of the engine.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Ru
      Boffin

      Re: "I thought that all 'jet' engines had supersonic airflow in the combustion chamber"

      There's supersonic flow out of the chamber, but with the exception of scramjets there's no supersonic flow into it. The output of the compression stage of a turbojet or ramjet or whatever is high pressure subsonic air. Its that high pressure that stops any sort of blowback.

    3. Chemist

      Re: More information please

      Roughly 3 times as much energy by mass for hydrogen compared to kerosene. But liquid density roughly an order of magnitude less. So I'd assume the tank needs to be 3 times the size for the same energy content AND capable of holding cryogenic fuel.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: More information please

      Hydrogen is the best fuel (i.e. highest specific impulse) when measured by mass (per kilogram) which is why it is commonly used for heavy lift and super-heavy lift rockets. However it is relatively poor when measured by volume (per m^3) since even liquid hydrogen has a very low density (about 67.8 kg/m^3 - compare to water which is 1,000 kg/m^3). Also liquid hydrogen tanks typically need lots of insulation, while leaks (due to the small size of hydrogen molecules) are a major problem. That's why rockets using liquid hydrogen have their fuel tanks topped off right to the point of engine ignition.

    5. SYNTAX__ERROR
      Boffin

      Re: More information please

      I think you are a bit confused. Aviation fuel is not a high explosive.

      Therefore the speed of flame propagation < the speed of sound.

    6. Schultz

      More information:

      In terms of energy per kilogram, hydrogen is almost an order of magnitude better that hydrocarbon fuels. But if you add the pressure container, that advantage shrinks significantly. In "Energy Environ. Sci., 2010, 3, 689-699", the authors claim that you can drive the same 500 km distance with either 33 kg Diesel (+10 kg tank) or with 6 kg hydrogen (+120 kg container).

      If you want to get rid of the pressure container, you have to liquefy the hydrogen by seriously cooling it down and then you should launch quickly before the fuel warms up. But the foam insulation on those tanks can be a bitch (see Columbia disaster).

      Was that what you were looking for?

      1. Chemist

        Re: More information:

        "In terms of energy per kilogram, hydrogen is almost an order of magnitude"

        Not as far as I know.

        Hydrogen ~ 140 MJ/kg

        Diesel ~ 45 MJ/kg

        1. frank ly Silver badge

          Thanks for Re: More information:

          Thank you for those informative replies. That's one of the reasons I enjoy El Reg :)

          (I had thought that the fuel-air mixture in a 'jet' combustion chamber experienced a 'continuous explosion' effect where the flame front travelled at the speed of sound. Apparently not, or maybe the compressor output air speed is pretty high... some combination.....whatever.)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Backward step

    So this test was slower and used hydrocarbons rather than the much faster test with hydrogen. So all the brains in the world can't be arsed to develop ways to productionise hydrogen in safer ways and wean us off our carbon addiction which will run out one day anyway.

    1. AlanS
      Pint

      Re: Backward step

      The point of hydrocarbon fuel is its energy density: more per tankful. It is easily synthesised from water and atmospheric carbon dioxide - plants do it all the time.

      Beer ... because it contains a hydrocarbon!

      1. Chemist

        Re: Backward step

        "Beer ... because it contains a hydrocarbon"

        Well it might have a trace but I think you mean carbohydrate

        1. James Hughes 1

          Re: Backward step

          Or, just perhaps, Chemist - Ethanol?

          1. Chemist

            Re: Backward step

            Ethanol indeed but technically that's not a hydrocarbon. Hydrocarbons only have carbon and hydrogen but indeed that's semantics to a general audience

            1. James Hughes 1

              Re: Backward step

              @Chemist. Oooo. I never knew that. Well, I might have done once. But then I only got an E in A level chemistry. Still, who's going to quibble about a tiny weeny O atom in there.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Beer already makes journeys close on instant.

        NT

    2. James Hughes 1

      Re: Backward step

      @Frank 14.

      So SpaceX are barking up the wrong try by replacing H2 with Kero? Or are they taking the smart route, of cheap fuel with a higher energy density that requires less specialised storage?

      1. annodomini2

        Re: Backward step

        Soyuz and most '60's rockets used Kerosene.

        SpaceX are using RP-1 as it's cheap and as the technology is well proven and low risk.

        The cost of developing a reusable cryogenic engine is much higher, for a couple of percent mass fraction.

        Additionally the rocket would need to be much larger to contain the LH2 required.

    3. Chemist

      Re: Backward step

      "to productionise hydrogen in safer ways and wean us off our carbo"

      Producing it safely is not the problem - getting the energy to produce it is.

      Whatever way you make it needs energy - 2H2+O2 -> water +~~600kJ/mol So you need at least that and indeed a lot more to produce hydrogen gas. So >1MJ to produce about 70 litres of hydrogen gas.

      Distribution and storage are also problems

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cruising now a five time the speed of sound...

    Roger...

    Target... Target... Target...

    Roger that scan I’ve got a contact and locked on

    Something’s going on at the jack slinger

    Target... Target... Target...

    Let’s jet out, we’ll cruise at hyperspeed

    I got the beat, I got the beat

    And that’s all we need – check it out!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missiles for peace

    The driver behind this is for the Amerikans to have a weapon system that can strike fleeting precision targets with conventional warheads launched from "safe" areas (USA or from warships) at global distances and in short flight times.

    Its known as the Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS)... go google it - FAS has a nice docco on it.

    There are a number of reasons why they need this and can't use ICBM's - the main one being that characteristic ICBM launches tend to "un-nerve" some "other folks" and also the technology in ICBM's is restricted in numbers by START/SALT.

    So what they need is a non-ICBM system that can rain small (think hellfire or maverick missile) sized warheads onto a selection of folks driving Toyata Hi-Lux's in a desert somewhere at a few minutes notice when a satellite either sees them or hears them on the phone.

    Its cheap, its low risk (well, no amerikans will die) and it puts the fear of Allah into their enemies...

  11. mark 63 Silver badge
    Happy

    speedy!

    wow I could make the 1.2 mile journey to work in 9 thousands of a second on one of those things!

    wheeeeeeeeeeee!

    1. David Schmidt
      Go

      Re: speedy!

      It would be fun while it lasted... you'd better spread out those G's on on deceleration, though!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: speedy!

      nine tenths of a second, surely? or seven tenths at mach 8 (ignoring acceleration/deceleration).

      but hey - what's a couple of zeroes in the grand scheme of things?

      1. mark 63 Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: speedy!

        Goddammit you're right.

        one day my maths is really gonna bite me in the ass!

  12. Ross 7

    Future travel uses?

    Really? I mean faster global travel would be nice for the (sadly) rare occasions I go on my hols, but I'm not convinced I'd enjoy the acceleration!

    It definitely seems more like a military "thang". They might see some use from drones where speed is vital (Al Dave is spotted in his convoy headed into town - they want to make sure Al Dave doesn't get more than 100yds up the road before he is killed by "insurgents" to avoid press conferences...err... killing civies)

  13. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I have two points to make concerning lack of crucial detail in the article:

    a) Exactly how many cartons of off-milk would have to be dumped down drains to equal the greenhouse emissions of this scale model of Thunderbird 1?

    2) Was there or was there not a Playmobil pilot on board during the test, and if not, does it represent an exclusionary policy on the part of the agencies involved (no Playmonauts need apply?).

    Okay, three points.

  14. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Why are we wasting time with energy intensive lift technologies?

    Adequate funding should be provided to those searching for an economical way to produce Cavorite on an industrial scale. The spin-off benefits to this research are obvious to all: it would revitalize the sagging railway buffer market and revolutionize the crane industry, besides making flying cars a trivial exercise in re-engineering current marques. Elevator technology would be given a much-needed shot in the arm and emergency skyscraper escape harnesses would be a new "must have" accessory for the busy Wall Street executive.

    But no. NASA and the industrial-military complex remain mired in the 1950s vision of Von Braun. Probably because Cavorite was invented by an Englishman.

    I wonder how many other wonders of science have been lost to jingoism?

  15. annodomini2
    Boffin

    Some more interesting info here for the nerdy

    http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA544557

    It's in relation to the combustion sensor.

  16. 4ecks
    Boffin

    "Match in a hurricane"

    Well there's the reason it's taken the boffins so long to get it to work.

    They started from the wrong analogy - after all most people would use a Zippo (tm) in a hurricane.;)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given that we know the US don't allow supersonic commercial flights over their airspace, and presumably Europe will take a similar view next time around, I'm wondering how much use this would be outside of the military.

  18. roger stillick
    Go

    DARPA going fast

    NASA Aeronautical history book 2, a free PDF download from nasa.org... about 1/3 of a really big book is devoted to Supersonic Cruise... a joint NASA, USAF, DARPA project is extending this into speed levels to clear the planet... basic shape, fuels, and engine research is progressing... someday...

    1. Random Yayhoo
      Stop

      Wrong speed or Mach #s given.

      You said Mach 6-8 and gave mph figures. One set is wrong. If the mph figures were correct, speeds were about Mach 6.9-Mach 9.2. Remember, at 12km+ altitude Mach 1 is about 660 mph.

  19. Solly
    Go

    This is all well and good, but when can I get my mitts on one of these in Kerbal Space Program?

    http://kerbalspaceprogram.com/

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