China Plans to Test Hypersonic Scramjet Later This Year
China is planning to test a prototype combined-cycle hypersonic engine later this year in a bid to pave the way for the first demonstration flight of a full scale-propulsion system by 2025.
If the test is successful, it will become the world's first hypersonic-powered vehicle or the first stage of a two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane, according to Next Big Future. Hypersonic aircraft could significantly reduce the costs of space travel and boost China's renewed space race.
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"We also developed a low-cost near-space science and technology flight test platform," Lihong Chen, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said. He noted that the first flight was launched successfully, with key issues of the scramjet demonstrated at Mach 3.5-7 and altitudes of 15-30 km.
Chen also claimed that the flight test was part of a fundamental research under a program, which is similar to the Australian-US Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation.
Combined-cycle systems have long been studied as a possible way to access to space and long-range hypersonic vehicles. According to Popular Science, the aircraft would take off like a normal plane, before a supersonic scramjet engine kicks in to lift it to nearly 100 km above sea level. Then, rocket boosters will give additional thrust, supplying it with enough power to escape the Earth's lower atmosphere.
Meanwhile, Zhang Yong, an engineer from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said that China would be able to master spaceplane's technologies over the next three to five years. He also said that a full-scale spaceplane would enter service by 2030.