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Ucf oblique wave detonation engine

New York to LA in 30 Minutes: Is Super-Sonic Flying Coming Back?

You may have heard that Virgin Galactic recently passed another hurdle in its quest to take people into space by receiving FAA approval. That drive for space flight, as well as the quest to improve air travel, has had scientists looking for new ways to achieve hypersonic and supersonic flight. Researchers at the University of Central Florida may have found a way to achieve just that. Their new Oblique Wave Detonation Engine could make it possible to fly from New York to Los Angeles in under 30 minutes.

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Ucf jet

“There is an intensifying international effort to develop robust propulsion systems for hypersonic and supersonic flight that would allow flight through our atmosphere at very high speeds and also allow efficient entry and exit from planetary atmospheres. The discovery of stabilizing a detonation—the most powerful form of intense reaction and energy release—has the potential to revolutionize hypersonic propulsion and energy systems,” says Kareem Ahmed, an associate professor at UCF and a co-author on the study. Oblique Wave Detonation harnesses the power of an oblique detonation wave to achieve air travel speeds of Mach 6 to 17—roughly 4,600 to 13,000 miles per hour. Think of it as if the plane is a surfboard riding the shockwave of an explosion.

This technology also improves jet propulsion while using less fuel, which would lighten the fuel load, reduce costs, and lower emissions. The challenge has been finding a way to stabilize the detonation wave. The UCF team developed a chamber with a 30degree angle ramp near the mixing chamber that stabilizes the wave. “This is the first time a detonation has been shown to be stabilized experimentally. We are finally able to hold the detonation in space in oblique detonation form. It’s almost like freezing an intense explosion in physical space,” says Ahmed.

Though they were only able to sustain the wave for three seconds, this is a gigantic step forward. “Studies such as this one are crucial to advancing our understanding of these complex phenomena and bringing us closer to developing engineering-scale systems,” says Gabriel Goodwin, an aerospace engineer and a co-author. As the work continues, we’ll get that much closer to faster flights and more realistic space travel.

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