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China's Hybrid Spaceplane Could Reset The 21st Century Space Race

Posted By: RumorMail
Date: Friday, 12-Aug-2016 11:27:09

In Response To: Mysterious object near Neptune just made space a lot weirder (RumorMail)

It takes off from a runway, flies at hypersonic speeds, then rockets into orbit

While SpaceX is making news with its recoverable rockets, China announced that it is working on the next big thing in spaceflight: a hypersonic spaceplane.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is beginning advanced research on a high tech, more efficient successor to the retired Space Shuttle, with hybrid combined cycle engines that can takeoff from an airport's landing strip and fly straight into orbit. The hybrid space plane's combined cycle engines would use turbofan or turbojet engines to takeoff horizontally from a landing strip. Once airborne, the engine then shifts to ramjet propulsion and, as speed increases, adjusts into a scramjet engine with supersonic airflow. At the scramjet stage, the hybrid spaceplane would enter hypersonic flight in 'near space', the part of the atmosphere between 20km to 100km above sea level. Finally, the hybrid spaceplane would use its rocket motors to push out of near space and into orbit.

Broadcasts by both state television broadcaster CCTV, and its English service, note that the CASTC spaceplane's easy reusability would exponentially bring down space launch costs.
China Combined Cycle Turbo-ramjet engine Variable Cycle

Combined Cycle Engine

The combined cycle engine shares the same inlet and exhaust nozzle for both the turbojet/turbofan and ramjet. In the upper diagram, the air intake ramps behind the ramjet spike direct airflow into the turbo core. In the bottom diagram, the air intake ramps gradually block off air flow to the turbo core, redirecting air into the ramjet combustion engine for high supersonic (Mach 3.0-Mach 4.0). Chinese combined cycle engines like this blueprint would be paired with a scramjet (presumably via changing the ramjet) and a separate rocket motor to create a hypersonic space plane.

Zhang Yong, a CASTC engineer, claimed that China will master the spaceplane's technologies in the next three to five years, and a full-scale spaceplane would then enter service by 2030.

Interestingly, another CASTC engineer, Yang Yang, mentioned that the spaceplane would improve "ease of access to space for untrained persons," as the space plane would have more gradual acceleration than a space launch rocket (reducing the physical strain on astronauts during takeoff), suggesting a version of the spaceplane which could be used for space tourism.
CSAA Feng Ru Award 2015

CSAA

Feng Ru

Professor Wang Zhenguo was one of the nine recipients of the 2nd Feng Ru awards at CSAA's biennial conference in September 2015. His successful scramjet engine may be the core of the combined cycle engine for the planned hypersonic space plane.
China UAV Mach 4 Supersonic Hypersonic

The Missing Drone

China was rumored to make the first flight of a Mach 4+ test drone in September 2015. Launched from an H-6 carrier aircraft, the drone fired up its combined cycle turbo-ramjet engine to accelerate from subsonic to high supersonic speeds. Given CASTC confidence in applying preexisting aeronautical experiments to build a working prototype by 2021, it seems that the September 2015 flight was for real.


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