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This Rocket-Powered Car Is Engineered to Break the Sound Barrier


You’re watching a test run of one of the fastest cars ever made Zipping across the South African desert at 628 miles per hour, this car is the result of over a decade of extreme engineering and aerodynamic modeling

All with the end goal of breaking the world land speed record But the team behind this project wants to go even further They want to reach speeds nearing 1,000 mph, aiming to be the fastest car in the world The land speed record is all about taking a manned vehicle across the surface of the earth as fast as possible Of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds

Regulated by the International Automobile Federation, this competition has some ground rules Basically, you have to have a car that's controlled by a human onboard The vehicle must have at least four wheels which are in contact with the ground And it's your average speed over a measured mile that you do in two opposite directions within the space of an hour that gets you your land speed record The current record holder is the Thrust Supersonic Car, or Thrust SSC

Back in 1997, it plowed across the Black Rock Desert in Nevada at 763 miles per hour, breaking both the sound barrier and the world record Now, Ben and this team have engineered a next generation supersonic car– Bloodhound It’s designed to go speeds north of 800 miles per hour, with a stretch goal of a whopping 1,000 mph A lot of the team’s benchmarks are written in miles, so we’ll be using this conversion box so the metric system is never too far away One of the things that makes Bloodhound an incredibly complex, arguably one of the most complex vehicles ever to be designed aerodynamically is the fact that we're traveling at supersonic speeds, but over the surface of the earth

From an engineering point of view, that's an incredibly complex problem As a travelling object approaches the speed of sound, it starts to catch up to its own soundwaves– compressing the air in front of it Once it goes faster than those waves can be created, it generates areas of extremely high pressure called shock waves — along with a deafening sonic boom Today, we have military aircraft that can handle these shockwaves and travel at supersonic speeds with ease, but for a car– it’s a little bit more challenging Whereas supersonic aircraft have the luxury of generating these shock waves and then the shock waves propagate out into this effectively infinite space around them, a car by definition is rolling along the ground

And that presents two major challenges One: How do you keep the car on the ground? The shock waves that get underneath the car will interact with the ground plane and actually can start generating lift We want a car that's not going to generate so much lift that it could take off the ground The second part of the challenge is all about drag minimization When those shock waves form, they generate a lot of drag

How do we keep the resistive forces as low as possible so that we've got sufficient thrust to accelerate it to the target speeds? And as if those two challenges weren’t difficult enough, The strength of the shockwaves that we're going to be generating are higher than any vehicle travelled over the surface of the earth before So managing those extremely strong shock waves, at those kind of speeds, is really the key aerodynamic challenge that we're trying to overcome To optimize the car’s shape for these conditions, the team looked to Computational Fluid Dynamics Essentially what CFD is, is virtual wind tunnel testing Now, behind me here, we've got a real physical wind tunnel

This circulates air round at high speed and passes that airflow over a body that you can then measure forces, pressure distributions and so on In CFD, we do all of that, but in the virtual world, inside a large supercomputer The way it works essentially is we go back to the fundamental governing equations of high speed aerodynamic flows and those are the Navier Stokes equations It turns out that they are very, very difficult equations to solve directly And so we need large high performance computers

Once the team nailed down the optimal shape for Bloodhound, the next hurdle was figuring out how to build it The design of the wheels was a massive challenge They rotate at 10,000 rpm and the forces at the rims of those wheels is extraordinary To prevent the wheels from literally tearing themselves apart under those forces, the team had them forged out of an aircraft-grade aluminium alloy Then, there’s the engine

As you’d imagine, it’s nothing like what you’d see under the hood of an ordinary car We've actually taken a modern military jet engine that's operating in the Eurofighter typhoon aircraft And that's kind of the main thrust source that we've been using That delivers nine tons of thrust To take the newly built Bloodhound out for a spin, the team packed up shop and took a trip to the desert of South Africa

The Hakskeenpan is an incredible place to run a straight line racing car like Bloodhound We've prepared 19 kilometers of track by about three kilometers wide We actually clear the stones off the track to make what is now the world's best straight line racing track From October to November of 2019, the car went through various speed tests, hitting 450, 550 and eventually 600 miles per hour, the final goal for this round I was about 300 meters to the side of the track and it is an incredible thing to witness

The first thing you experience is the noise of the cars You hear the jet engine at this point, it's over the horizon And what is incredible is seeing this white speck, and then within seconds, it's 300 meters away from you It is an incredible thing to witness I've been working on Bloodhound for over a decade and over that decade it's been very much a theoretical thing for me

It's been pictures and plots on a computer screen So to be there in South Africa and see this vehicle in real life, it felt like you were witnessing history With this year's testing now complete, there's mountains of data to sift through and engineering improvements to be made before their attempt at a world record During the high speed test program, the car was heavily instrumented with sensors measuring pretty much everything you could think of measuring on a car like this What we're now doing is mapping those measurements back to the CFD model that was used to design the car in the first place to see how well that CFD model corresponds with how the car actually behaved

That will help us define the size of some winglets, which we might need to add onto the car for a record attempt The team also needs more thrust The military jet engine they used during testing was enough to get the car to 628 miles an hour, but– to break the record and head towards 800 miles per hour and north of that, we're gonna need to supplement that thrust with a mono-propellant rocket engine We just need to get the rocket system developed and installed in the car and then we'll be ready for a record attempt If all goes to plan, Bloodhound will attempt its record breaking drive in 2021

But regardless of the outcome, the team’s pursuit is really about pushing the limits of our world Bloodhound is important because it's really difficult And whenever engineers and scientists do things that are difficult, we learn lots For me, as an aerodynamicist, Bloodhound is the fastest transonic aerodynamic test bed that has ever existed The data will get back off of this will be incredible in helping us understand how well CFD methods, computer modeling methods can predict aerodynamics on a complex body like this

But almost on a bigger level than that Bloodhound is all about showcasing new technology, which is going to be really important for inspiring a whole new generation of engineers who are going to solve the problems that the world needs to solve

Source: Youtube

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