Hypersonic objects travel at more than five times the speed of sound, or 3,806 mph, fast enough to fly from London to New York in less than an hour. For missiles – such as those recently deployed by Russia against Ukraine or those tested by the United States – reaching such speeds can allow them to evade current air defenses and anti-ballistic missile systems. It also makes them more adept at penetrating heavily armored structures and capable of destroying targets by means of kinetic energy alone, without even considering a payload of high explosives.
The Feitian-1 design – whose name translates to “flying sky”, was launched on Monday from a base in northwest China.
Developed by experts at Northwestern Polytechnical University, the rocket would operate in a so-called waverider design, generating lift from the shock waves it produced as it flew at several times the speed of sound.
According to Overdefense.com, the Feitian-1 appears to sport the first ever operational kerosene combined cycle ramjet/rocket capable of smoothly transitioning between at least four different propulsion configurations.
This, it is said, should allow it to operate effectively during every phase of flight – and means it represents a breakthrough for Chinese hypersonic aircraft designs.
Conventional air-breathing jet engines, such as those seen in large airliners, actively draw in and compress oxygen to allow them to burn fuel during their flight, for example through fan blades made of spin.
Above three times the speed of sound, however, this becomes useless, as passing the jet or weapon through the air accomplishes this on its own.
So-called ramjet and scramjet engines that take advantage of this principle can achieve levels of fuel efficiency that, for comparison, rockets cannot achieve.
As a result, the Feitian-1 is lighter than current boost-glide weapon systems like the US Air Force’s AGM-183 ARRW, Overdefense.com reports.
This will allow the rocket to carry either more fuel, thus increasing its range, or a larger payload.
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It is believed that the Chinese hypersonic missiles are currently only experimental and not ready for battlefield deployment.
China, however, is not the only world power to have developed hypersonic missile capabilities, with the United States and Russia having their own programs.
Earlier this year, Russia launched its so-called “Kinzhal” missiles on the international stage when it used them to destroy both an underground ammunition warehouse and a fuel depot at the start of the invasion of Russia. ‘Ukraine.
According to the Arms Control Association, the United States is unlikely to have a corresponding system ready until next year at the earliest.