Hypersonic travel may become practical with new heat-resistant ceramic carbide material

The missing “technology” in the dream of hypersonic air travel is a light-weight but heat-resistant material that can tolerate the superheating of travelling more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 6 or more). Mach 5 would equate to 3,800 mph or 6,125 km/h. At those speeds, nose tips, wings, turbine blades heat up and degrade due to ablation caused by extreme heat. I the same way ceramics are often used on spacecraft meant for re-entry, hypersonic aircraft must have similar protection — but for longer-term exposure. Current materials degrade — or even evaporate.

 

One of Nasa’s test hypersonic planes.

 

Nasa, have been testing engines and flights — particularly the “X” planes — and others such as Lockheed Martin have concepts and proof of concepts under way. Enter the UHTC teams from the University of Manchester and the Central Souther University of China. UHTC just stands for “ultra-high-temperature ceramics.”

 

Flight test of Hypersonic X 43 from NASA.

 

Ceramic Carbide Coating

Coating the exterior with ceramic carbide may be the solution to flying at hypersonic speeds without subsequent heat degradation. According to the University teams, ceramic carbide is 12 times more durable and resilient as compared to current common-use UHTCs such as zirconium carbide (ZrC) or titanium carbide (TiC).

See this chart of various UHTCs and their temperature thresholds:

 

Melt points of various UHTCs.

 

The new ceramic is made using a method called Reactive Melt Infiltration (RMI), which imposes a mix of elements (Titanium, zirconium and so on) into a composite carbon matrix. The RMI method makes the ceramics far more resistant to degradation caused by heat at hypersonic velocities. Central South University in China made the new ceramic, evaluated at Manchester University.

 

The X-51 hypersonic test NASA (simulated image.)

 

Professor Ping Xia of Materials Science at Manchester University explained: “It has been shown that introducing such ceramics into carbon fiber-reinforced carbon matrix composites may be an effective way of improving thermal-shock resistance.”

 

Concept outline of SR-72 from Lockheed Martin Skunk Works.

Did you miss this?

Other Popular Stories

  • Canada-US trade as it should be, but diversification desirable: report
  • Transit groups call Ontario budget a step in the right direction
  • Manufacturing up again in October
  • Zinc-air battery shows great promise in search for energy storage
  • Ontario home builders don't like government's inclusionary zoning plan
  • Surveillance systems company receives $75M federal investment
  • Honda Canada makes its 7-millionth car, a Civic EX Sedan
  • Months, if not years, until balance restored in oil markets
  • Aerospace industry "steady but unspectacular" in 2013: Conference Board
  • SpaceX "first orbital class rocket capable of reflight" test flight today: $12 billion in contracts and a 100 missions at stake: live feed of launch
  • Pressure Used to Control Properties of Graphene Transistors
  • General Dynamic Land Systems $15-billion deal with Saudis at risk over Kingdom's alleged involvement in murder plot
  • Government pledges continued support as National Mining Week begins
  • Bombardier to hit business jet targets: aiming for US$8.5 billion annually by 2020
  • Ontario's electricity operator announces 16 solar, wind and hydro contracts
  • Nuclear emergency response centre for Ontario as countries deal with aging reactors
  • World's first municipal waste-to-biofuels plant opens in Edmonton
  • Canada exports more than logs and oil
  • Volvo aims to put garbage collectors out of work with autonomous robot garbage trucks
  • Only 13% of Canadian manufacturers likely to change export strategy despite trade disputes even though 87% are looking beyond the US market
Scroll to Top