NASA's X-43A piggy-backed to a Pegasus space-launch vehicle became one of the world's first successful scramjets in 2004 -- it achieved nearly Mach 10 for approximately 10 seconds.  (Source: NASA)
China throws its weight behind a hypersonic scramjet missile

In late December, DailyTech brought you information on the Pentagon's intention to further the development of the scramjet-powered X-51A hypersonic cruise missile.

Given the principles on which the scramjet engine is based, the X-51A cannot reach its top speed under its own power. In current design proposals, the X-51A is to be carried aloft via a B-52 Stratofortress and hustled to supersonic speeds via a booster rocket. Once optimal velocity is achieved for the scramjet to function, the 14-foot X-51A would then cruise to Mach 5+ (3600 MPH+) under its own power.

The latest reports from Boeing suggest that the X-51A will make its first flight tests during 2009.

In the mean time, China is working on a scramjet missile prototype of its own. The missile would be capable of reaching Mach 5.6. In order to further develop its scramjet program, China has already built a Hypersonic Propulsion Test Facility (HPTF).

The Laboratory of High-Temperature Gas Dynamics, which is located at the HPTF, is "devoted to the fundamentals of hypersonic and high-temperature gas dynamics including detonation phenomena, supersonic combustion, chemical reactions, shock-wave/vortex interactions and thermal-chemical flow characteristics," according to Aviation Week.

"China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the U.S. and field disruptive military technologies that could, over time, offset traditional U.S. military advantages," stated a 2006 Pentagon Quadrennial Review.

If its scramjet program succeeds, China will likely have hypersonic global-strike capabilities within 20 to 30 years.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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