How Scramjets Work

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The scramjet–supersonic combustion ramjet–engine has been a holy grail of aerospace engineering for 50 years. It is an air-breathing engine with no moving parts capable of propelling crafts at hypersonic speeds beyond Mach 5. As indicated in the name, combustion in the scramjet occurs at supersonic speeds, where the heating due to air compression is sufficient to ignite fuel when injected into the engine. At present the record for the highest speed attained in scramjet flight is held by the NASA X-43A, which reached Mach 9.8 in 2004 after about 10 seconds of scramjet free-flight. The longest scramjet flight belongs to the Boeing X-51 Waverider with 140 seconds of burn time in a 2010 test flight. Few tests of these experimental hypersonic crafts have been completely successful; they represent the frontier of aerospace technology.

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