Air travel has become the norm within today’s fast past society, from the extremely affordable ticket prices coupled with the package holiday’s that have become part of many people’s yearly quest for adventure. But, what is next for air travel? Can it be developed to the point whereby consumers are able to fly to for example Australia from the UK in less than 22 hrs?
Well, a potentially sizeable development is on the horizon after Orbital in conjunction with NASA has developed and preliminarily tested what is known as a “3D printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Virginia”. This could potentially facilitate air travel at amazing speeds of up to 3,425 mph (5,500km/h) or 4.5 times the speed of sound, which is fast.
Below is an image of a concept hypersonic plane which has been modelled within design software that is used for the purposes of aerodynamics, it certainly looks fascinating for a ground level design. The combustor was created through a manufacturing process known as “powder bed fusion” (PBF). Within this is a layer of “metal alloy powder that is printed before a laser fuses areas together based on the pattern which is fed into the machine by a software program”
The combustor has as you would expect been put through a series of hypersonic flight conditions over the course of 20 days. Orbital have also stated that one of the most complex parts with which to develop is the Scramjet combustion system which needs to maintain stable combustion within an extremely volatile environment. This technique could also have the potential to be used within future versions of NASA’s X-43 experimental hypersonic aircraft which is pictured below alongside the Langley Research Centre in Virginia.
In case you’re wondering, the definition of a Scramjet is an air-breathing aircraft that carries only “hydrogen fuel, the aircraft pulls the oxygen needed and burns it from the atmosphere; this is instead of the traditional method of fuel and the required oxygen to provide acceleration”
These developments could pave the way for a future whereby consumers could, in theory, be whizzing around the globe by hypersonic power.