China Has Made Astounding Progress on Hypersonic Weapons

China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise. Five people familiar with the test said the Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target.

The missile missed its target by about two-dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence. But two said the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realised. The test has raised new questions about why the US often underestimated China’s military modernisation.

We have no idea how they did this,” said a fourth person.

The US, Russia and China are all developing hypersonic weapons, including glide vehicles that are launched into space on a rocket but orbit the earth under their own momentum. They fly at five times the speed of sound, slower than a ballistic missile. But they do not follow the fixed parabolic trajectory of a ballistic missile and are manoeuvrable, making them harder to track.

Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons policy who was unaware of the test, said a hypersonic glide vehicle armed with a nuclear warhead could help China “negateUS missile defence systems which are designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. “Hypersonic glide vehicles . . . fly at lower trajectories and can manoeuvre in flight, which makes them hard to track and destroy,” said Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

https://www.ft.com/

Thin Heat Shield For Superfast Aircraft

The world of aerospace increasingly relies on carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites to build the structures of satellites, rockets and jet aircraft. But the life of those materials is limited by how they handle heat.

A team of FAMU-FSU College of Engineering researchers from Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) is developing a design for a heat shield that better protects those extremely fast machines. Their work will be published in the November edition of Carbon .

Right now, our flight systems are becoming more and more high-speed, even going into hypersonic systems, which are five times the speed of sound,” said Professor Richard Liang, director of HPMI. “When you have speeds that high, there’s more heat on a surface. Therefore, we need a much better thermal protection system.”

The team used carbon nanotubes, which are linked hexagons of carbon atoms in the shape of a cylinder, to build the heat shields. Sheets of those nanotubes are also known as “buckypaper,” a material with incredible abilities to conduct heat and electricity that has been a focus of study at HPMI. By soaking the buckypaper in a resin made of a compound called phenol, the researchers were able to create a lightweight, flexible material that is also durable enough to potentially protect the body of a rocket or jet from the intense heat it faces while flying.

Existing heat shields are often very thick compared to the base they protect, said Ayou Hao, a research faculty member at HPMI. This design lets engineers build a very thin shield, like a sort of skin that protects the aircraft and helps support its structure. After building heat shields of varying thicknesses, the researchers put them to the test.

One test involved applying a flame to the samples to see how they prevented heat from reaching the carbon fiber layer they were meant to protect. After that, the researchers bent the samples to see how strong they remained. They found the samples with sheets of buckypaper were better than control samples at dispersing heat and keeping it from reaching the base layer. They also stayed strong and flexible compared to control samples made without protective layers of nanotubes.

That flexibility is a helpful quality. The nanotubes are less vulnerable to cracking at high temperatures compared to ceramics, a typical heat shield material. They’re also lightweight, which is helpful for engineers who want to reduce the weight of anything on an aircraft that doesn’t help the way it flies.

First Private Passenger To Fly Around The Moon

SpaceX has signed its first customer to fly on the company’s huge new rocket, the BFR, the company says. The passenger will fly on the monster ship around the Moon, though there are no details yet regarding when the trip will happen.

The BFR, or the Big Falcon Rocket, is the giant rocket that SpaceX is currently developing to send humans to the Moon and Mars. The BFR design, presented by CEO Elon Musk last year, consists of a combined rocket and spaceship, called the BFS for Big Falcon Spaceship. The main rocket will have 31 main Raptor engines and be capable of sending up 150 tons to low Earth orbit, according to that presentation.

In February 2017, SpaceX announced plans to send two passengers around the Moon on the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket, claiming that the flight would happen at the end of 2018. SpaceX never named the passengers, and, ultimately, Musk admitted during the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy that the trip probably wasn’t going to happen. “We’re sort of debating whether to do that on Falcon Heavy or BFR,” Musk said that  before the launch in February of this year. “It will sort of depend on how well BFR development is going as to whether we focus on BFR for deep-space human flight or whether we do that on Falcon Heavy.”

Source: https://www.spacex.com/