Reaction Engines Designs Hypersonic Airplane

February 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Reaction Engines of Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom have recently revealed their plans for a hypersonic airplane, which will have the capability of traveling at speeds of up to 6,400 km/hour (Mach 5) with a range of 20,000 kilometers, carrying 300 passengers on board. The designers are of the opinion that the hypersonic airplane (dubbed A2) could be in commercial service within the next 25 years.

Traveling at twice the speed of the now defunct Concorde, the A2 airplane would be able to travel non-stop between Belgium and Australia within just five hours, taking a route over the North Pole. At 143 meters long, the A2 is about twice the length of the largest passenger airplane currently in use, but due to the proposed use of high-tech compounds in manufacture, it is likely to weigh less and would therefore be able to land at commercial airports. Although aircraft have traveled at similar high speeds before, these were rocket powered aircraft which were only capable of traveling short distances. The A2 would be the first aircraft to cruise for an extended length of time within the Earth’s atmosphere.

Due to the fact that enormous heat is generated during high-speed flight, the A2 has been designed with no windows. To compensate for the lack of windows, the A2 will have cameras on the outside of the airplane to transmit images from outside to television screens placed in front of the passenger seats.

Conventional fossil fuels lack the properties needed to achieve the speed that the A2 is designed to attain. For this reason the A2 will be fueled by liquid hydrogen. Designers initially claimed that the A2 would have less impact on the environment in comparison with other airplanes because it will run on liquid hydrogen as opposed to fossil fuel. The main component of emissions from fossil fuel is carbon dioxide and for liquid hydrogen is nitrous oxide. However, it has since been established that nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is almost 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In response, Reaction Engines have undertaken to devise methods of eliminating or containing all of the nitrous oxide elements produced by the liquid hydrogen.

Other concerns that have been raised are potential hazards attached to producing the liquid hydrogen fuel and the possibility of damage to the atmosphere being caused by the A2 traveling at ozone-layer height. Many have also expressed doubts with regard to the economic viability of hypersonic passenger airplane travel.

The A2 hypersonic passenger airplane was designed in line with a European Union project funded by the European Space Agency. The project seeks to explore the possibility of producing a commercial airplane which utilizes technology currently associated with space travel. Reaction Engines specialize in designing and developing hi-tech propulsion systems and space transport and the management appear confident that future generations will be given the opportunity of traveling in a hypersonic airplane.

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