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Chinese university tests hypersonic space plane

fietian-1, Chinese spaceplane

According to social media reports, a Chinese university, Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU), successfully tested on July 4, 2022 a prototype hypersonic prototype that uses both rocket and scramjet engines, as explained at this report:

What is particularly interesting about the launch of Feitian-1 is that it uses an RBCC [Rocket-Based Combined Cycle] engine to propel it to speeds in excess of Mach 5. An RBCC engine is a combination of an air-breathing ramjet, air-breathing scramjet, and ducted rocket. As the vehicle accelerates, the engine transfers from one mode to the next, allowing it to cope with air hitting the intake at greater and greater speed, and then becoming a pure rocket at top speed and very high altitudes.

The two images shown above are an attempt to get a sense of scale for this rocket. I think it is smaller than the Chinese wish us to believe, probably less than fifty feet tall, as stacked. Note the buildings in the right image. Other images showed no tower or strongback, also suggesting a small rocket. Moreover, all the released images hide the base of the rocket, suggesting there are attachments there the Chinese do not wish us to see, probably fuel and communications lines, all of which would help determine scale.

Finally, the upper stage, which I estimate to be no more than fifteen feet long, is purposely photographed from the side to hide its likely spaceplane appearance. This spaceplane look suggests this particular engineering research is at least superficially commercial and not military, connected more with the effort in China to develop hypersonic planes. That the Chinese government allowed this much information to be released also tells us that this particular prototype is not specifically military in nature.

This is not to say that the technology will not be adapted for military use. It certainly will be. NPU and its Institute of Spaceplanes and Hypersonic Technologies is also sanctioned by the U.S. government because of its ties to China’s military.

The US sanctions list frequently includes Northwestern Polytechnical University among the sanctioned entities from China. The University’s staff and students are not allowed to purchase or use commodities made in the US, including mathematical software.

Despite being a space plane test of the small prototype hypersonic rocket, this is the first reliable report from China that I have seen of such a suborbital test. Previous reports, despite being heavily touted by the U.S. military and accepted without question by the mainstream press, were unconfirmed and appeared untrustworthy. This report, showing proof of a suborbital test of what looks like a smaller scaled prototype I think gives us a more accurate picture of China’s present capabilities in this technology. They are moving fast, but are not there yet.

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5 comments

  • MDN

    Well from the picture it is believable that it launched, but beyond that everything stated are unverifiable claims.

    No doubt they are working on this, but why is beyond me. Ballistic missiles are hypersonic too, and because of that any location on the planet is at risk of annihilation in less than 30 minutes. Bringing such instant attack into theater weapons only heightens the risk of erroneously triggered war I fear as it will be employed for non-nuclear ordnance under much less structured command and control.

    I also expect much of this news is promoted by US arms suppliers on the hope of triggering billions in US funding to counter this “grave new threat.” But we already have proven stealth technology deployed in mass across many platforms, so I simply don’t see as we need it.

  • MDN: In this case it appears they are aiming for a transportation technology that can move people quickly. I have my doubts as well, but then, we shall see.

  • Jeff Wright

    The Chinese are serious about airbreathing research. Speaking of China, Tsinghua University’s Kai Lu has–as per phys.org-made a “Supramolecular adhesive with usable temperature range of 400 degrees Celsius…steel plates glued together withstood high shear forces at room temperature, in liquid nitrogen and at 200 degrees Celsius.”

    Here, the left wants Green crap and such-and Wall Street invests only in the immediately profitable.

    China is about engineering for engineerings sake. You guys just don’t get it.

  • pzatchok

    Jeff I am all for them trying to take the lead in anything.
    ‘We will just steal their tech for once.

    But remember that the Soviets tried that also and dang near bankrupted themselves. They just did not have the economy to support the work and the manufacturing and their military.

    The Chinese seem to be going down that same way. Their population is actually dropping and is predicted to be on par with the US population in 30 years. Which puts them in a pickle.
    All the infrastructure they are building for all those people might not be sustainable. Let alone their military. Their young people are turning out just like everyone in the west. They want everything from the government and they want it now.
    An open internet will eventually turn them all into wokesters.

  • Jeff Wright

    Their culture is more disciplined than rowdy Russia. The Japanese, though pro-West, have a saying that “the nail that stands out will be hammered down.” Also true in China before Lenin. Now in Checkpoint Charlie-the East saw how well the West had it. When Mao died and Wall Street moved production there-they were like Gavin’s Californians who really think they are freer than Floridians-because anything was better than Mao. It may take Starlink to chip away at that-as early MTV was better than staid Radio Free Europe. The Generation Gap meets ancestor worship…jihad vs McWorld-that kind of thing. Their youths are studious and respectful-and if China did invade, our rowdy Chaz brats are the first they’d put down. Chicago wouldn’t know what hit them.

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