Is China’s Reusable Hypersonic Space Launcher Actually a Weapon?
Matthew Greenwood posted on May 31, 2019 |
The design combines a launcher and “dual waverider” vehicle, but it’s unclear what the technology is...

A Chinese reusable hypersonic rocket recently completed a groundbreaking flight test.

Developed jointly by Chinese aerospace company Space Transportation and Xiamen University, the Jiageng-1 was 28.5ft long, with a weight of 3.7 metric tons at liftoff, according to Space Transportation. The wing had a span of just over 8 feet, with a leading-edge sweep of 60 degrees for the wing and 50 degrees for the three tail surfaces.

The rocket reached a maximum altitude of 26.2 kilometers and a top speed of above 4,300 kilometers per hour. It later touched down by parachute at a designated landing site.

According to reports, the hypersonic test payload was a dual waverider design incorporating the Xiamen Turbine Ejector-Ramjet Combined Cycle (XTER) propulsion system, designed by Xiamen University, and a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine.

Existing hypersonic rocket designs function by using the compression lift created by its own shockwave to gain a high-speed lift-to-drag ratio. However, the “dual waverider” design of the Jiageng-1 uses two shockwaves—one under its fuselage, and the other in the air-inlet duct for its ramjet engine to boost its speed.  

The XTER uses inward turning inlets and splitter doors to direct airflow into upper and lower channels. The upper channel is further divided into two more ducts: one funnels air to the engine, and the other forms a rocket ejector. The flow from both ducts merge again to pass through a ramjet and out to a single exhaust nozzle. The lower channel is used for scramjet power at higher Mach speeds.

Wind tunnel tests indicated that the dual waverider model could reach speeds of Mach 4 to 6 with varying angles of attack.

There are significant questions about the Jiageng-1’s flight. While Space Transportation claims it was a success, there is no data to verify it. It is also not known if the XTER separated from the first stage or contained a working TBCC engine.

The launch was intended to test the dual waverider configuration, as well as rocket recovery and reuse technology and capabilities. It would seem that both tests were successful. While some data is classified since the project was funded partially by the Chinese military, the launch was conducted with more public transparency than one would expect from a military operation.

It remains to be seen if the Jiageng-1 is a precursor to a Chinese hypersonic weapon or part of a project to try to quintuple the current speed of civil aircraft—which is what the university claims. Either way, it looks like China may have taken an important step forward in hypersonic vehicle capabilities.

Read more about hypersonic aircraft technologies at DARPA Awards Raytheon a $63.3 Million Contract for Hypersonic Weapons Research.

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