While working on my Energy Systems Design Research paper on Scramjets (Supersonic Combustion Ramjets), I discovered that recently (as of November of 2004!) NASA shattered all sorts of speed barriers by launching the research vehicle X-43A at literally undreamed of speeds of Mach 9.8 (7,000 mph!). The next two vehicles in the Hyper-X project have been cancelled due to changes in NASA's strategic goals, the X-43B and the X-43C (a little amount of research found the cancellation article on the X-43C, I couldn't find one for the X-43B so it could still be on the table?). Well what brought about a change in those goals?
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To be sure, he outlines a lofty plan and some lofty goals, and that isn't a bad thing. But when those lofty goals cut short funding for proven successful projects, such as the Hyper-X project, he destroys a good thing. Further research into scramjets could even help the space industry move along! Imagine a space delivery system that needs less than half the fuel it does now.
You've seen pictures of the space shuttles and the huge tanks attached? Well those are rockets, and rockets are powered by a fuel, and an oxidizer. That oxidizer weighs a LOT. The Liquid Oxygen weighs at least 3 times as much as the shuttle itself! Scramjets, on the other hand, only need fuel. The oxygen is provided for by the oxygen in the atmosphere itself! Oh sure, rocket fuel with oxidizer will be needed once the vehicle exits the atmosphere, and the oxygen level is too low to sustain combustion, but during ascent, turbojets (or air-assisted rockets, such as the X-43B would use)could be used to launch the vehicle into the air, and then the scramjet could take over at about Mach 6, launching the vehicle until it exits the atmosphere, at which point the thrusters and rockets will take over.
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