Joint break­through in coat­ing could speed up flight

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TOP NEWS - By AN­GUS MC­NE­ICE in Lon­don an­gus@mail.chi­nadai­

Chi­nese and Bri­tish sci­en­tists have de­vel­oped a new kind of ce­ramic coat­ing for use on hy­per­sonic air­craft that is “vastly su­pe­rior” to other ma­te­ri­als, po­ten­tially im­prov­ing the per­for­mance and dura­bil­ity of high-ve­loc­ity planes and rock­ets.

Re­searchers at China’s Cen­tral South Univer­sity and the United King­dom’s Univer­sity of Manch­ester found the coat­ing made of car­bide, a com- pound com­posed of car­bon, was 12 times bet­ter at with­stand­ing tem­per­a­tures of up to 3,000 C than stan­dard ul­tra-high-tem­per­a­ture ceram­ics.

The ma­te­rial is be­ing stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester’s School of Ma­te­ri­als and man­u­fac­tured at CSU’s Pow­der Me­tal­lurgy In­sti­tute.

“Fu­ture hy­per­sonic aero­space ve­hi­cles of­fer the po­ten­tial of a step jump in tran­sit speeds,” Pro­fes­sor Philip Withers from Manch­ester said. “A hy­per­sonic plane could fly from Lon­don to New York in just two hours and would rev­o­lu­tion­ize both com­mer­cial and com­muter travel.”

China is among na­tions that have in­vested in de­vel­op­ing com­mer­cial and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles that can achieve hy­per­sonic speeds, which is de­fined as faster than five times the speed of sound.

En­gines that can pro­pel rock­ets be­yond Mach 5, or 6,173 kilo­me­ters per hour, have been around for some time, though pro­duc­ing ma­te­ri­als that are able to re­peat­edly with­stand the in­tense heat gen­er­ated by air and gas in the at­mos­phere at such ve­loc­i­ties still poses chal­lenges.

“Cur­rent can­di­date UHTCs for use in ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments are limited, and it is worth­while ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial of new sin­gle-phase ceram­ics,” said Ping Xiao, a pro­fes­sor of ma­te­ri­als science who led the study in Manch­ester.

China has a well-de­vel­oped hy­per­sonic flight pro­gram that has achieved sev­eral break­throughs. It has the world’s largest hy­per­sonic wind tun­nel, which al­lows for re­search into flight in the Mach 10 to Mach 15 range.

In April, the na­tion re­vealed that engi­neers con­ducted a test in 2015 on an en­gine that suc­cess­fully pro­pelled a rocket at speeds up to Mach 7 and al­ti­tudes of up to 30 kilo­me­ters.

While of­fi­cial test speeds have been kept un­der wraps by the mil­i­tary, China’s DF-ZF ex­per­i­men­tal hy­per­sonic glide ve­hi­cle, which first flew in 2014, is thought to op­er­ate in the Mach 5 to Mach 10 range.

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