What's a scramjet?

A scramjet is a variant of the ramjet, a high-speed jet engine, but designed to inject fuel into a supersonic airflow. Basically, there's a “scoop” on the front of the engine that just sucks up tons of air and forces it into the scramjet “tube” — the speed alone compresses it to combustion pressures (a normal jet would have to use fans and so on). Hydrogen is injected into this high pressure zone, and when it ignites, it shoots out of the back of the engine incredibly fast.

For those of you who know what a ramjet is, it's the same thing, except the airflow is supersonic throughout the engine, rather than being temporarily decellerated — this also has the sideeffect that the engine design dictates it only works at supersonic speeds, so you have to have a booster engine to get you going that fast before you can kick on your scramjet.

I don't know how many of you watched NASA's scramjet tests this last weekend, but I've got to say that I really have a worry with them. NASA is a civilian organization. It was founded that way in order to keep war on Earth, instead of allowing it to spread into space, and ensure that space belonged to The People.

Anyway, NASA just tested a scramjet, which is an airbreathing hypersonic plane that'll hit Mach 10. Popular Science and all the other journals have got these stupid “40 minutes from Washington to Paris” super-commuter stories.

FACT: The Concorde was commercially unviable.

FACT: This plane is even more expensive and impractical than the Concorde.

FACT: All the “problems” of supersonic commercial airplanes are magnified in a hypersonic plane.

FACT: Scramjets need a rocket booster to be “kickstarted”.

FACT: This plane is not useful for getting into outer space.

FACT: This plane will not be carrying civilians.

FACT: This plane has one use only, and it's a scary one.

This plane has one purpose and one purpose only: to power new weapons systems. (And by calling it a NASA project, they get to access all sorts of other funding).

Over the past few years, rumors have been flying that the Russians have been testing scramjets attached to ballistic missiles, which would give them a weapon that could punch through the best weapons shields — and, surprise surprise, one day after America showed off its scramjet, Russia announced that its “revolutionary” new missiles could easily defeat any new American missile shield.

The arms race is back, and it's bigger than ever.

The advantage to a scramjet over traditional rockets is that, on top of being faster, scramjets breathe air, meaning they only have to carry a fraction of the fuel, making them much lighter and smaller. After the scramjet missile/bomber is launched it immediately shoots up to the upper atmosphere, skips along the border to outerspace, and then dives back into the lower atmosphere at Mach 10, delivering hundreds of guided nuclear bombs to their targets.

For some non-idiotic coverage of this project, there are good articles at Tech Central Station and The Financial Times.

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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