NASA Has Selected an Aussie Hypersonic Speed Experiment for Testing That Could See Super Fast Travel

NASA Has Selected an Aussie Hypersonic Speed Experiment for Testing That Could See Super Fast Travel
Image: Spaceballs, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A UNSW hypersonic speed experiment has been selected as a test case for a NASA-organised group of researchers in the U.S. next year.

That’s right, ludicrous speed is being researched by UNSW and NASA, hoping to inform the design of vehicles that will be able to travel at hypersonic speeds. Maybe it’s not the ludicrous speed from Spaceballs, but hypersonic speeds are still insanely fast.

This research, in particular, will delve into the structural integrity of the airframe in a hypersonic vehicle, as aerothermal heating at this speed could cause damage and distortion.

“This is a fundamental study of the complex coupled physics that will influence how a hypersonic vehicle will distort in flight due to the extreme aerodynamic and thermal loads that it is subjected to,” says Professor Andrew Neely, the leader of the Hypersonic Multibody Aeroelastic eXperiment (HyMAX).

“It will help inform the development of computational tools to help confidently and efficiently design these vehicles.”

It’s still a lot of work and a lot of years away before hypersonic speeds become widely possible in other applications, but the speeds are already observable in some places.

“Hypersonic” is what we call speeds more than five times that of the speed of sound – that is, five times about 1,220 kilometres per hour. Putting it lightly, it’s very fast.

Asteroids and meteors, in particular, travel at hypersonic speeds, as do some space vehicles. To leave the gravitational pull of the Earth, hypersonic speeds are essential (this is a term you might have heard of called “Escape Velocity”). At this speed, things get really hot – so the design needs to be just right.

But we’re not necessarily talking about space here, we’re talking about planes traveling at hypersonic speeds. The team behind HyMAX have been hard at work testing out hypersonics technology, and their experiment has been selected by NASA to explore and experiment with as a test case.

The test case will be performed next year as a part of The Aeroelastic Prediction Workshops in the U.S., which will see engineers and researchers from all around the world programming and building out complex simulations and models to see if problems can be solved. The UNSW hypersonic speed experiment is one of two experiments chosen to be explored.

It’s not light-speed, but can you imagine flying from Sydney to London in four hours? That’d be insane. Hypersonic planes have been in the testing process for some time, but it’ll be exciting to see where they end up.