Mach 5 by 2009: Student Project Aims to Meet this Goal for Scramjet Engine

Nov. 21, 2006 -- New York to Los Angeles in 40 minutes could be the result of research now under way by a team of aerospace engineering students at the University of Virginia, working with colleagues at Virginia Tech and three other state institutions. The team is collaborating on a project designed to fly a scramjet engine at five times the speed of sound, or 3,700 miles per hour — a feat that could revolutionize air transport and even be used on a new generation of launch vehicles for lifting spacecraft into orbit.

Jointly headquartered at U.Va. and Virginia Tech, the Hy-V Project will involve about 40 undergraduate and graduate students who plan to use a research rocket launched from Virginia’s Eastern Shore to fly the scramjet in July 2009.A scramjet, or Supersonic Combustion Ramjet, is a type of highspeed jet engine. Unlike rocket engines, oxygen needed by the scramjet for combustion is taken from the atmosphere passing through the vehicle rather than in liquid form from an onboard tank. The configuration of the engine reduces the size and weight of the craft which makes it safer, cheaper to operate, and faster — New York to Los Angeles in 40 minutes.

According to Christopher Goyne, director of the Aerospace Research Laboratory at U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and principal investigator on the project, the Hy-V Program offers an unusual blend of basic research and undergraduate and graduate education in high-speed propulsion.

“The key to maintaining competitiveness within the international aerospace market is a well-educated aerospace workforce,” said Goyne, who presented the project at a conference of the 14th annual Space Planes and Hypersonic Systems and Technologies Conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Australian Hypersonics Initiative in Canberra, Australia. “Surveys indicate that 27 percent of current aerospace workers will retire by 2008 and that 66 percent of aerospace and defense executives report a shortage of skilled workers.

“A particular benefit of this program will be educating and motivating a new breed of aerospace engineers and scientists. This is a remarkable opportunity for students, especially for undergraduates, to be involved at this level of a project.”

In addition to the students from U.Va. and Virginia Tech, the project will include students from the other schools in the Virginia Space Grant Consortium — William & Mary, Hampton University, and Old Dominion University.

Goyne said that students, organized into six groups reporting to technical managers, will participate through design courses, independent study courses and extracurricular activities.
U.Va. has been involved in scramjet research on behalf of NASA in the past. The University’s scramjet wind tunnel is the only one of its kind in the  world that simulates the operation of a scramjet flying at Mach 5 for an indefinite test time using uncontaminated air, Goyne said.

“Many wind tunnels that NASA, the Air Force and others use for scramjet testing use combustion to heat the air flow,” Goyne said.

“This means combustion products are in the air that flows through the scramjet, and this can affect the scramjet operation and the accuracy of the measurements. Our facility uses electricity to heat the air cleanly. In addition, most scramjet wind tunnels run for just minutes at a time. The
U.Va. facility typically runs for hours at a time, which is more representative of the actual operation of a scramjet.”

Wind tunnel experiments, an essential component of the overall project, will be validated by actual flight data. Combining the wind tunnel and flight data will improve the accuracy of scramjet design tools. According to Goyne, students have already begun to review flight experiment designs and will choose a final design within the next six months. A detailed design is scheduled for completion early in 2008.

The project has secured a twostage Terrier-Improved Orion rocket and launch services at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility as well as seed funding from the Virginia Space Grant Consortium.According to Goyne, the project consortium is currently teaming with government and industrial organizations.