Chinese and British scientists have developed a new kind of ceramic coating for use on hypersonic aircraft that is “vastly superior” to other materials, potentially improving the performance and durability of high-velocity planes and rockets.
Researchers at China’s Central South University and the United Kingdom’s University of Manchester found the coating made of carbide, a compound composed of carbon, was 12 times better at withstanding temperatures of up to 3,000 C than standard ultra-high-temperature ceramics.
The material is being studied at the University of Manchester’s School of Materials and manufactured at CSU’s Powder Metallurgy Institute.
“Future hypersonic aerospace vehicles offer the potential of a step jump in transit speeds,” Professor Philip Withers from Manchester said. “A hypersonic plane could fly from London to New York in just two hours and would revolutionize both commercial and commuter travel.”
China is among nations that have invested in developing commercial and military vehicles that can achieve hypersonic speeds, which is defined as faster than five times the speed of sound.
Engines that can propel rockets beyond Mach 5, or 6,173 kilometers per hour, have been around for some time, though producing materials that are able to repeatedly withstand the intense heat generated by air and gas in the atmosphere at such velocities still poses challenges.
“Current candidate UHTCs for use in extreme environments are limited, and it is worthwhile exploring the potential of new single-phase ceramics,” said Ping Xiao, a professor of materials science who led the study in Manchester.
China has a well-developed hypersonic flight program that has achieved several breakthroughs. It has the world’s largest hypersonic wind tunnel, which allows for research into flight in the Mach 10 to Mach 15 range.
In April, the nation revealed that engineers conducted a test in 2015 on an engine that successfully propelled a rocket at speeds up to Mach 7 and altitudes of up to 30 kilometers.
While official test speeds have been kept under wraps by the military, China’s DF-ZF experimental hypersonic glide vehicle, which first flew in 2014, is thought to operate in the Mach 5 to Mach 10 range.