Hypersonic and space travel
To satisfy the basic curiosity of mankind, space travel has been high on the want list for many years. Current methods to launch men into space and to recover them to earth are extremely expensive and dangerous. New ventures like that by Rutan could make space travel feasible at acceptable cost. But the idea of using a space plane to visit outer space hotels or densely populated stations on Mars is still a long way off.
Another issue is travelling to destinations on the globe at higher speeds. The sound barrier has proven to be a phenomenon that seriously restricted travel to subsonic speeds. Only Concord flew on a regular basis at Mach 2, but it required substantial amounts of power and fuel to overcome drag in the atmosphere. And thus Concord was expensive to operate and accessible to the happy few only.
Will it be feasible to fly even faster then today to several destinations in the world at reasonable cost? Will hypersonic airliners, flying faster than 5 times the speed of sound, bring us to any destination on the globe in a few hours? The technology is (almost) ready. New supersonic ramjet technology (scramjets), using air breathing propulsion systems based on liquid hydrogen fuel would allow us to reach any place on the globe within 2 hours flying at Mach 10.
New methods of flight like the wave rider method would allow airliners to ride on their own shock waves. The concept of Hyper Soar would lift an aircraft under its own power up to 40Km high. The engines would then be turned off. The plane would still accelerate to 60Km altitude and then fall back to earth. At about 35 Km high it would "skip" on the upper layers of the atmosphere and be bounced back into space. Each skip would represent a 450km travel distance and a trip between Tokyo and the western part of the US (10.000Km) would take 72 min., using 18 skip procedures. The inventors claim that this method would make travel twice as fuel-efficient as today’s airliners. The question remains whether this could become a regular way to travel or just a fun ride as the passenger would be subjected to zero "g" conditions and during the bounce probably to several “g’s”.
We feel that such operations will not replace regular air traffic for a long time to come. The hypersonic aircraft will probably first be used in the military domain. Issues like propulsion, heat and safety need to be explored first before any use in commercial aviation seems feasible. However, if we succeed in attaining speeds up to Mach 24, we could develop an aeroplane that could reach outer space stations, as this speed would represent the same speed as objects in orbit around the globe. Such a vehicle would probably need a combination of scramjet engines and rocket power.
Do we feel that space travel or hypersonic travel is likely to happen on a routine basis in the next 50 years?
Probably not. Unless big steps in new technologies come along that would allow for an efficient, safe and a comfortable (1-g) journey.
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