China is reportedly developing and testing its hypersonic technology at an unprecedented pace. It claims to have added another engine to its arsenal that can propel it to the forefront of the hypersonic race.
China’s hypersonic weapons program hopes to springboard itself into the future with an “air-breathing” magnetic fluid engine that might make it commercially possible to go anywhere on Earth in under an hour.
By 2035, China intends to construct a hypersonic passenger fleet that will use near-Earth orbit to go to any destination in the world in under an hour. Even though this program has been ridiculed by Western observers, China remains committed to developing an aircraft of this caliber and expanding the fleet in over a decade after a successful operation.
The program’s lead scientist claimed that the super-quiet engine with no moving parts will also aid in the construction of the next-generation launch vehicle, which is expected to enhance China’s space capability tremendously.
The ‘Next Generation Launch Vehicle’ is likely to launch a crewed mission to space and could potentially make its first flight in 2026. An advanced engine powering it could turn out to be a technological space milestone for the communist nation.
The experimental engine, according to Wei Baoxi, who has overseen several of China’s “milestone” hypersonic test flights, might drastically increase the vehicle’s flight efficiency and stability.
The engine, known as magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) drive apparently generates thrust from an electrically charged fluid that is forced through it by an electromagnetic force, and it would be used in tandem with the scramjet, another air-breathing engine, SCMP was informed.
The MHD was designed to power nuclear submarines, but due to the low conductivity of saltwater, it was deemed inappropriate.
Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) propulsion is a means of using electrical current, instead of a noisy propeller, to push a ship through the water. Surprisingly enough, a working example of this futuristic drive system is quite easy to build. pic.twitter.com/BIRI6IsZUt
— Space Science🛰️Technology (@PMagnetE) March 31, 2021
Air molecules on the surface of an aircraft traveling at five times the speed of sound or more, on the other hand, become electrically charged, making the futuristic engine’s working medium ideal.
The MHD engine has the potential to alter near-Earth orbit flight and catapult China to the forefront of the aerospace race, according to Wei, who is also deputy director of mixed cycle engine development at the Beijing Power Machinery Research Institute.
“This technological revolution is a historic opportunity that China cannot afford to miss,” he said. “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.”
China’s focus seems to be hinged on viability and near-orbit travel as a few weeks ago, it also completed a test flight for a new engine, which analysts predicted would power the country’s future hypersonic and near-space jets, according to Chinese state media — Global Times.
China’s Hypersonic Dream Engine
Winged hypersonic planes, according to Wei, will eventually replace regular rockets as the backbone of near-orbit transportation. According to him, the MHD drive might boost the total efficiency of air-breathing space-planes by 10%, compared to scramjets, which suck in air and mix it with fuel to achieve combustion.
Wei and his research team wrote in a report published last month in the Chinese peer-reviewed journal ‘Aerospace China’ that air-breathing propulsion “would be the method that human beings must adopt to attain great efficiency in travel between the Earth and space.”
A magnetohydrodynamic drive, also known as an MHD accelerator, is a method for propelling vehicles using just electric and magnetic fields, with no moving components, by employing magnetohydrodynamics to accelerate an electrically conductive propellant (liquid or gas). The fluid is directed to the rear and as a reaction, the vehicle accelerates forward.
The MHD drive, according to Wei, could assist overcome many of the technological hurdles to make commercial hypersonic space flying a reality, SCMP stated. Currently, as the Mach number grows, the thrust created by air-breathing engines declines, and the extremely high temperatures generated can damage the plane’s surface.
There’s also the issue of unpredictable turbulence, which necessitates sophisticated – and expensive – flight control systems, as well as the requirement for reusable key components in a successful hypersonic space vehicle.
Due to its air-breathing capability, Chinese space scientists estimate that the hypersonic aircraft now in development will be 10 times more efficient than a rocket that requires its own oxygen.
China’s reverse-engineering of MHD engine may absorb energy from the surrounding rapid, hot air molecules to preserve the craft’s surface and extend its lifespan.
A portion of the energy captured would be converted to electricity, which is used to power powerful plasma jets that aid in flight control. The remainder is routed into an after-burner, which uses electromagnetic force to drive the exhaust to generate further thrust.
To achieve maximal performance, the magnetic fluid engine, according to Wei, will need to be paired with other emerging technologies such as rapid cooling systems and detonation engines. Recent test flights have demonstrated that these technologies have a lot of potential, he said.
These efforts could be noteworthy if the claims are confirmed as China has been tirelessly testing hypersonic capacity on a war footing. On the other hand, the US is still struggling to make a proper hypersonic weapon, partly because of a view within the US strategic circles that the country possesses a far greater number of powerful ballistic missiles capable of inflicting significant damage to its adversaries in any potential future conflict.
Space Launch With Air-Breathing Engine
China claims to be working on a new-generation rocket which is expected to become the primary launch vehicle for the country’s future manned mission.
China will debut a series of next-generation liquid-propellant rockets for the country’s future space missions at Airshow China in Zhuhai, S China's Guangdong on Sept 28-Oct 3. China is now developing a new manned carrier rocket and a heavy-lift launch vehicle, media reports. pic.twitter.com/zTh9BOX0ys
— China Science (@ChinaScience) September 24, 2021
The creation of a brand-new technology carries dangers, according to a Beijing-based space scientist who is not involved in Wei’s project. He stated that there is evidence the Chinese space authorities “do not want to put all their eggs in one basket.”
In mid-February, two designs for China’s next-generation manned launch vehicle — a hypersonic aircraft and a more traditional two-stage reusable rocket – were unveiled, according to the scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
When Wang Xiaojun, president of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, floated the idea of a launch vehicle at an online international conference, it was criticized as a knock-off. It appeared that it would operate like SpaceX’s reusable Starship, which has become the backbone of US space missions, according to social media users.
According to the Beijing scientist, SpaceX’s feat prompted the question of whether China should follow suit, as some of China’s reusable rocket prototypes had already achieved vertical landing in test flights.
While Chinese researchers aren’t abandoning reusable rocket technology, scientists claim that interest in air-breathing engine technology is growing. He points out that a rocket engine’s fuel efficiency is already low, and powered descents and soft landings consume even more energy.
However, in a more recent development, Science and Technology Daily stated that China’s next-generation manned launch vehicle could have a reusable first stage that can land vertically softly.
According to Wang Xiaojun, the head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which is part of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the reusable first stage may perform engine deceleration during reentry and regulate and decelerate using pneumatic rudders.
This is indicative of an approach that does not exclusively rest on air-breathing engines or reusable rockets. China’s investment in both kinds of technology could mean that it intends to bolster its hypersonic as well as conventional reusable launch capability, in tandem.