Race to near space: Su­per­fast flight

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Chi­nese aero­space re­searchers are push­ing the lim­its in a new sphere — near space — which prom­ises su­per­fast ve­hi­cles for pas­sen­gers, busi­ness and mil­i­tary use.

Nearly half of the 24 en­tries in the fi­nal round of the Third Na­tional De­sign Con­test on Fu­ture Air­craft and Space Planes, held in Bei­jing on Mon­day, had to do with flight in near space.

A to­tal of 284 en­tries from space in­sti­tutes, uni­ver­si­ties and mil­i­tary re­search es­tab­lish­ments across the coun­try, took part in the com­pe­ti­tion jointly or­ga­nized by the Chi­nese So­ci­ety of Astro­nau­tics and the gen­eral de­sign depart­ment of the Third Academy of China Aero­space Sci­ence and In­dus­try Corp.

Near space refers to the re­gion of Earth’s at­mos­phere that lies be­tween 20 and 100 kilo­me­ters above sea level, en­com­pass­ing the strato­sphere, meso­sphere and lower ther­mo­sphere — al­ti­tudes above the up­per limit for com­mer­cial air­lin­ers but be­low or­bit­ing satel­lites.

A team from North­west­ern Polytech­ni­cal Univer­sity in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, de­signed a con­cept for a cut­ting-edge space­liner ca­pa­ble of trav­el­ing nearly 20,000 kilo­me­ters with 14 pas­sen­gers.

Dong Hain­ing, a se­nior aero­dy­nam­ics re­searcher at the CASIC Third Academy, who guided the team, told China Daily that near space is a hot field, and China is among the lead­ers.

“Ve­hi­cles trav­el­ing in near space have a bright prospect,” he said. “They will be able to avoid a lot of neg­a­tive el­e­ments faced by tra­di­tional air­craft and space­craft, and will be able to fly much faster— say, at least Mach 10 (12,360 km per hour).”

“More­over, they will be ca­pa­ble of trav­el­ing a very long dis­tance on less fuel than con­ven­tional air­craft.”

How­ever, re­searchers must re­solve a host of en­gi­neer­ing is­sues be­fore a pro­to­type can be pro­duced.

“We should keep pace with the United States in this field,” said Li Ji­awei from Nan­jing Univer­sity of Aero­nau­tics and Astro­nau­tics.

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