A revolutionary new engine that ultimately may reduce the cost of putting payloads in orbit has been delivered to NASA for testing.
The 30-inch long "scramjet" engine was fabricated by GASL, Inc., Ronkonkoma, NY, for the Hyper-X program, an ambitious research effort to demonstrate hypersonic propulsion technologies in flight.
The engine is the first program hardware to be completed and will be used in high-speed ground tests at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA.
An identical engine being fabricated now will be mated to its flight vehicle in February 1999 and delivered to NASA'sDryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, leading to the first flight of the program in early 2000.
The contract for flight and ground hardware is implemented for NASA by a team led by MicroCraft, Tullahoma TN, and including Boeing, Seal Beach, CA, and Accurate Automation, Chattanooga, TN. A second contract, to Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA, will provide rockets to boost the research vehicles to test altitude.
Langley manages the five-year, approximately $170 million Hyper-X program, and Dryden is responsible for vehicle fabrication and flight tests.
Three flights are planned -- two at Mach 7 and one at Mach 10 (seven and ten times the speed of sound). The flight tests will be conducted within the Western Test Range off the coast of southern California. Each of three planned vehicles will be flown once.
Hyper-X vehicles, which have been designated X-43, will be boosted to their test point on the first stage of a modified Orbital Sciences Corp. Pegasus booster rocket and will be launched by NASA's B-52 from an altitude of 19,000 to 43,000 feet, depending upon the mission. For each flight, the booster will accelerate the X-43 to Mach 7 or 10 at altitudes up to 100,000 feet, where it will separate from the booster and fly under its own power. Mach 7 is approximately 5,000 mph at sea level. Mach 10 is approximately 7,200 mph at sea level.
Hyper-X program managers hope to demonstrate "air-breathing" engine technologies that could ultimately be applied in vehicle types from hypersonic (Mach 5 and above) aircraft to reusable space launchers. By comparison, the high-flying SR-71 reconnaissance airplane, which flies more than Mach 3, is the fastest air-breathing aircraft to date.
Although prior flight experiments conducted by the Russians using a rocket booster have demonstrated air-breathing engine operation at Mach 5 to 6 conditions, the X-43 will be the first free-flying demonstration of an airframe-integrated, air-breathing engine and will extend the flight range to Mach 10.
Extending air-breathing technologies to much greater speeds requires the development of scramjet engines, the type that will propel the research vehicles. Unlike a rocket, which must carry its own oxygen for combustion, an air-breathing aircraft burns oxygen in air scooped from the atmosphere. Air-breathing hypersonic vehicles therefore can be lighter and should carry more cargo/payload than equivalent rocket-powered systems.
A ramjet engine operates by subsonic combustion of fuel in a stream of air compressed by the forward speed of the aircraft itself, as opposed to a conventional jet engine, in which the fan blades of the compressor section compress the air. A scramjet (supersonic-combustion ramjet) is a ramjet engine in which the airflow through the entire engine remains supersonic (faster than Mach 1 or the speed of sound). The fuel for the X-43 will be hydrogen.- end -
Images of the Hyper-X/X-43 vehicle and additional information can be obtained at the following URLs:
FACT SHEET: http://oea.larc.nasa.gov/PAIS/Hyper-X.html
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