There aren’t many NASA types at the National Space Symposium this week. This is the biggest aerospace convention of the year, and almost everybody is in Colorado Springs. While the focus is on “national security space” there has been plenty of talk about how space observations are mandatory for climate monitoring, where satellite phone and TV communications are headed in the future, and how emerging commercial human space flight will be affected by government rules and regulations.
Most NASA people stayed home because of a restriction put into last year’s NASA budget greatly restricting the agency’s budget for conference attendance. This is the only conference I am going to this year, for example. It makes it hard to keep up with what is going on in the world. But enough whining, that is not my point today.
I had a great conversation with the Air Force Research Lab guys about their X-51 hypersonic scram jet test which is coming up this fall. I am particularly interested in the development of this technology since it will someday enable aircraft travel vastly more efficient and faster than what we currently suffer through. Can you imagine being anywhere in the world within about an hour of takeoff? That is the kind of travel that is possible.
The shuttle had an outstanding test last flight looking into the arcane science of how air closest to a flying vehicle (called the boundary layer) transitions from laminar to turbulent flow. Early results indicate we had a controlled transition around Mach 16 versus the usual Mach 8. This type of data is invaluable to the designers of future hypersonic aircraft. And it can’t be gathered in wind tunnels or any other ground test.
Anyway, the X-51 is ready to take scram jet engines to the next level — This engine will run for up to 11 minutes which is a quantum leap past the current record holder of about 12 seconds. The flight will take place over the Pacific Ocean this fall.
I can’t wait to hear the results. But even more than that, I can’t wait to get out of my trans-oceanic coach seat in one hour instead of eight!
Keep up the good work guys — keep pushing the envelope!