Experimental “aerobic” magneto-fluid engines to take you anywhere on earth in under an hour?

China has been making rapid advancements in hypersonic technology and although some of them might be a cause of worry with regards to military and security, there are others, though ridiculed by the west, that does make for an interesting read.

If reports are anything to go by, China, which is already on a spree-rapidly ramping up its hypersonic weapons game, aims to develop an “air-breathing, magnetic fluid” engine, which would commercially make it viable to travel anywhere on earth in just under an hour.

Chinese Scientists Test Hypersonic Engine: SCMP - Asia Financial News
Representative | Asia Financial

The country aims of rolling out a hypersonic passenger aircraft that will use near-Earth orbit to travel to any destination in the world in less than sixty minutes.

According to a lead scientist attached with the program, the launch vehicle which is currently in development would be powered by a super-quiet engine with zero moving parts.

The engine – magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) drive and what makes it tick

A magnetohydrodynamic drive or MHD accelerator works by generating thrust from an electrically charged fluid which in turn, is propelled by an electromagnetic force-all of which would work in tandem with a scramjet- another air-breathing engine.

Yamato 1 – The first working, full-scale MHD ship | Representative | Wikipedia

Historically, they were intended for propelling nuclear submarines although they remained impractical due to low efficiency limited by the low electrical conductivity of seawater.

The air molecules around the aircraft travelling at five times the speed of sound, are ionized, or electrically charged, and this provides an ambient environment for the futuristic engine to operate in.

Can China's experimental engine supercharge hypersonic space race? | South  China Morning Post
China’s experimental super engine | Representative | South China Morning Post

A reverse-engineered MHD engine could absorb energy from the surrounding highly ionized air molecules, thereby shielding the aircraft structure from eventual disintegration. Furthermore, a part of the captured energy could be used to run the powerful plasma jets while the rest could be routed through an afterburner to produce additional thrust.

This technological revolution is a historic opportunity that China cannot afford to miss. With an advantage in technology, a solid industrial base and continuous innovation, China could take a unique path to develop new powering systems for aerospace activities.

Wei-deputy director of mixed cycle engine development at the Beijing Power Machinery Research Institute

Hypersonics and associated drawbacks

Technically, the thrust produced is inversely proportional to the Mach number which means, the higher the Mach-lower is the thrust generated. Furthermore, the extremely high temperatures produced at higher Mach also is detrimental to the structural integrity of an aircraft.

Representative | IBTimes India

Another key factor that needs to be considered is the possibility of unpredictable turbulence which, hence, would require the use of advanced and sophisticated flight control systems. It is also to be noted that the success of any space-launch(s) also depend a lot on “reusable” components used in the manufacture of such spacecraft(s).

Reusable Rockets | Representative | DNV

Wei further mentions that to extract maximum performance from the engine, coming-of-age technologies like rapid cooling systems and detonation engines will have to be integrated. Apparently, test flights have been conducted and the results have been promising- he further iterates.

China’s goal is to make space travel as easy as taking an airline. The technology would not be sustainable in the long term if only rich people can afford a ride to space.

A Beijing scientist said

Reportedly, China has plans of launching the hypersonic passenger fleet by 2035.


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