On April 8th, Reaction Engines UK reported that their prospective hypersonic SABRE air-breathing rocket engine successfully passed the first phase of high-temperature testing.
“Reaction Engines’ precooler heat exchanger successfully achieved all test objectives in the first phase of high-temperature testing designed to directly replicate supersonic flight conditions and future tests are planned at even higher temperatures. The precooler is a key element of Reaction Engines’ revolutionary SABRE engine and is a potential enabling technology for advanced propulsion systems and other commercial applications.”
Earlier tests proved that the engine could take speeds of up to Mach 3.3.
Only the first phase of the recent was passed, and the other phases will prove whether the engine can resist being exposed to high-temperature airflow conditions in excess of the 1,000°C (~1800°F) expected during Mach 5 hypersonic flight.
For the development of its hypersonic technology, Reaction Engines commissioned a TF2 test facility located at the Colorado Air and Space Port, US.
Commenting, Mark Thomas, Chief Executive, Reaction Engines, said:
“This is a hugely significant milestone which has seen Reaction Engines’ proprietary precooler technology achieve unparalleled heat transfer performance. The HTX test article met all test objectives and the successful initial tests highlight how our precooler delivers world-leading heat transfer capabilities at low weight and compact size. This provides an important validation of our heat exchanger and thermal management technology portfolio which has application across emerging areas such as very high-speed flight, hybrid electric aviation and integrated vehicle thermal management.”
The methodology of the tests is the following:
“To replicate the conditions the precooler will experience at hypersonic speeds, the TF2 test facility uses a General Electric J79 turbojet engine formerly used in a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom aircraft to provide high-temperature airflow. Engineers at Reaction Engines’ Culham headquarters constructed the HTX precooler test article and after initial testing it was shipped to Colorado at the end of 2018, and ‘hot’ tests commenced in early March 2019.”
A facility to test the SABRE engine core is also being constructed at Westcott, Buckinghamshire, UK.
In terms of over-all progress on hypersonic technology, it appears that China is leading the “global race.”
The Munich Security Conference released a report, according to which in 2017, the vast majority of scientific publications into such “hypersonic” technology were published by Chinese researchers.
“This shows that China must have invested an enormous amount of resources to generate this enormous rise in research output,” said Randolf Carr, one of the co-authors.
Despite that, the country that has deployed and is close to deploying more hypersonic weapons currently is Russia.
And it is likely that China is simply attempting to catch up by heavily investing in research precisely to that end.
In December 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle passed successful tests.
“On my instructions the industrial enterprises and the Defense Ministry have prepared for and carried out the final test of this system,” Putin said. “The test was completely successful: all technical parameters were verified.”
The Avangard is expected to be commissioned into the Russian Armed Forces in 2019.
The Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missile is also being tested, and is expected to be carried by the Su-57 fighter jet. There is no concrete information of when it will be delivered to the Russian Armed Forces
There is little information regarding the US progress on hypersonic technology, but in April 2018 Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1 billion contract by the US Air Force.
The purpose of the contract was to attempt and bridge the gap between itself and Russia and China.
Wonder what weapons of the future #SkunkWorks is working on? Catch the highlights on the “Emerging Technologies” episode of the @AirForceAssoc podcast: https://t.co/9Kauw61LlE pic.twitter.com/os2oFyr5DS
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) April 20, 2018
“This effort is one of two hypersonic weapon prototyping efforts being pursued by the Air Force to accelerate hypersonics research and development,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “The Air Force is using prototyping to explore the art-of-the-possible and to advance these technologies to a capability as quickly as possible.”
The contract to “design, development, engineering, systems integration, test, logistics planning, and aircraft integration support of all the elements of a hypersonic, conventional, air-launched, stand-off weapon” was hurriedly issued. Lockheed Martin appear to have no deadline to provide results, but also have no guarantee that the Air Force will purchase any of their output.
US Undersecretary of Defense and Research Michael Griffin has been critical of his nation’s slow pace of advancement in this emerging field.
“The most significant advance by our adversaries has been the Chinese development of what is now today a pretty mature system for conventional prompt strike at multi thousand kilometre ranges,” Griffin told the House Armed Services Committee. “We will, with today’s defensive systems, not see these things coming.
“It is time for us to renew our emphasis on and funding of these areas in a co-ordinated way across the department to develop systems which can be based on land for conventional prompt strike, can be based at sea, and later on can be based on aircraft.”
Israel also claims it has a hypersonic missile. Israel Aerospace Industries and Israel Military Industry Systems announced in June 2018 they had tested, from an F-16, the 15-feet-long, 1,200-pound, GPS-guided Rampage. It is reportedly extremely cost-effective and it can be detected but it would be very hard to intercept.