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China's 'reusable' hypersonic missile interceptor inspired by MIT & NASA

By Baba Tamim,

Representational image: Hypersonic missile flying over the clouds.

Chinese aerospace engineers have allegedly created a new “reusable” air defense system, a step closer to shielding China from hypersonic missile attacks.

The “reusable” technology, an unmanned aircraft with an air-breathing engine, can fly significant distances at accelerations greater than five times the speed of sound, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Friday.

When the assault is over, "the aircraft can then return to an airport and be prepared for its next mission," claimed the researchers

The aircraft uses ground radar and early warning satellite systems that enable it to forecast the trajectory of approaching hypersonic missiles and neutralize the danger in midflight.

However, the development of such an advanced system was challenging, noted the SCMP report.

The challenges

The research team leader Yin Zhongjie of the Shanghai Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, a defense contractor that creates drones for the Chinese military, stated that the endeavor "ran into a sophisticated mathematical problem."

"Existing algorithms for midcourse interceptions are written for conventional missile platforms powered by rocket motors," Zhongjie's team said in a paper first published on January 1st in the domestic peer-reviewed journal Aerospace Technology.

"If a flight trajectory was planned for an air-breathing hypersonic aircraft using those equations, it could lose control or even crash."

High aircraft speeds are required for hypersonic engines, like the scramjet, to compress hot, swiftly flowing air and ignite fuel in a combustion chamber devoid of moving parts.

As a result, hypersonic aircraft are able to travel farther and with greater efficiency than rocket-powered missiles. These aircraft also aren't exposed to the yank or roll that rockets experience, which can substantially change airflows and choke the engine.

The team created a new algorithm that greatly simplifies the computation procedure in order to overcome these difficulties.

And their computer simulations showed that the new method had the propensity to plot a flight path that took longer than usual to complete.

However, the calculations were precise enough to direct the aircraft to a distance of 6.8 kilometers (4.2 miles) from the target, well inside the death zone of a kinetic weapon that the aircraft could fire.

Inspiration from MIT and NASA

The research group work is highly inspired and influenced by David Benson, a former graduate student at (Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who put out a mathematical approach called Gauss pseudospectral transcription that might greatly simplify launch vehicle flight control.

Benson is currently employed as a key member of the technical team at Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, a renowned research center that is actively engaged in the creation of advanced defense technology in the US, particularly hypersonic weapons.

The scientists also claimed to have employed a National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) algorithm created for the X-33 hypersonic aircraft. Despite being nearly finished, the X-33 project was abandoned by NASA in 2001 due to technical difficulties.

The hypersonic race

The US military created the Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) program in 2020 with the intention of developing a reliable midcourse air defense system against hypersonic threats , in view of China's and Russia's enhanced hypersonic weapon capabilities.

As part of the initiative, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon received significant defense contracts last year to develop ground-to-air hypersonic missiles based on tested platforms that use missiles propelled by rocket engines.

The plan has, however, drawn criticism since, in an actual conflict, it might take numerous hypersonic missiles to eliminate a single approaching danger.

The effective range of directed energy weapons, such as lasers and powerful microwaves, is constrained by environmental factors and the requirement for enormous energy supply facilities.

Meanwhile, the development of air-breathing hypersonic flying technology has received significant attention from the Chinese government.

Even universities are receiving funding to construct and test-fly prototype aircraft using cutting-edge propulsion systems like rotating detonation drives and scramjets.

This most recent achievement strengthens China's position in hypersonic technology and represents a significant rise in the country's attempts to advance hypersonic weapons.

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