Hypersonic Flight, 2053
Researchers Luca Maddalena and Luca Massa can only speculate about what a large hypersonic aircraft might look like. Their expertise lies not in the design of the futuristic vehicle, but in how to propel it at 3,500 mph. The aerospace engineering assistant professors have received a three-year NASA National Research Award to study novel injector designs to support combustion at hypersonic speeds. The work aims to reduce air travel times and make space access affordable. Drs. Maddalena and Massa are the only university researchers in the nation to garner the award. “This study on the effectiveness of new fuel injection schemes might lead to enabling affordable access to space for large hypersonic vehicles,” Maddalena says. Hypersonic speed reaches Mach 5, or about 3,500 miles per hour, and above. Hypersonic engines pull oxygen from the surrounding air whereas rocket propulsion engines carry their oxygen source on board, which limits an aircraft’s payload. A commercial airliner travels between 500 and 600 mph, but hypersonic vehicles could shorten a trans-Pacific flight by six to eight hours. Maddalena and Massa say that fuel and oxygen at typical speeds inside a hypersonic engine don’t have time to effectively mix and ignite, so they believe the key to achieving ignition and combustion is a proper design of the injectors. They’re investigating new configurations in collaboration with NASA’s Hypersonic Airbreathing Propulsion Branch at Langley Research Center in Virginia.