China is developing a perspective hybrid reusable space vehicle that will combine three different kinds of engine technologies, reported CCTV.
Namely, the new ship that is being developed as a “combination powered aircraft” will rely on an indigenous turbine, ramjet and rocket engines to power the spaceship in different phases of the flight into space. Such technology, China hopes will make orbit traveling that will span between dozens to hundreds of kilometers from the Earth much cheaper.
The idea envisions that the combination of engines will allow the aircraft to take off like an airplane and land at an airport facility, saving costs by getting rid of the expenses associated with the space launch facility.
Scientists believe that they are capable of producing an aircraft that will take off at low speed using a high-performance aviation turbine engine or air-breathing rocket engine. After reaching a certain speed, supersonic combustion ramjet engine will kick allowing the vehicle to reach the upper atmosphere where the rocket engine will be used to break through Earth’s gravity.
“We have made a long-term plan of taking about three to five years to master the key technologies, and significantly improve the capability of the spacecraft during the application,” said Zhang Yong, China Aerospace Science & Technology Corp, as quoted by Xinhua. “We aim to implement the technology in suborbital flight and orbital insertion by 2030.”
Hybrid Hypersonic Spaceplane Could Reset The 21st Century Space Race
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is beginning advanced research on a high tech, more efficient successor to the retired Space Shuttle, with hybrid combined cycle engines that can takeoff from an airport's landing strip and fly straight into orbit. The hybrid space plane's combined cycle engines would use turbofan or turbojet engines to takeoff horizontally from a landing strip. Once airborne, the engine then shifts to ramjet propulsion and, as speed increases, adjusts into a scramjet engine with supersonic airflow. At the scramjet stage, the hybrid spaceplane would enter hypersonic flight in 'near space', the part of the atmosphere between 20km to 100km above sea level. Finally, the hybrid spaceplane would use its rocket motors to push out of near space and into orbit.
Broadcasts by both state television broadcaster CCTV, and its English service, note that the CASTC spaceplane's easy reusability would exponentially bring down space launch costs.
Interestingly, another CASTC engineer, Yang Yang, mentioned that the spaceplane would improve "ease of access to space for untrained persons," as the space plane would have more gradual acceleration than a space launch rocket (reducing the physical strain on astronauts during takeoff), suggesting a version of the spaceplane which could be used for space tourism.
China already has a variety of advanced solid-and liquid-fuelled space rockets and even China's historical weakness in turbine engines may not be a problem (the proven WS-10 turbofan is likely to provide enough thrust for the combined cycle engine's ramjet to take over). For CASTC, the biggest challenge may be in integrating all these components into a single propulsion package, as well as building an airframe light and strong enough to resist the rigors of hypersonic flight and atmospheric reentry