China is fast-tracking potential space-travel technology designed to simulate speeds of Mach 30, a paradigm-changing velocity more than six times the speed of the hypersonic threshold considered to be Mach 5.
Hypersonic weapons are quickly coming up to speed from the development stage to deployment.
Passing the initial hypersonic threshold of Mach 5 is itself a massive breakthrough, bringing substantial tactical and strategic implications for future war.
Now, China appears to be testing a next-generation, ultra-high-speed wind tunnel designed to conduct “separation tests” of a space plane launching or separating from a host vehicle.
Mach 30 Tunnel
The wind tunnel was reportedly shown and discussed on the state-run China Central Television (CCTV), according to a report from The Drive.
“The footage recently broadcast on state television also contains footage of the high-speed oblique detonation wave engine, also known as a shcramjet, used to power the wind tunnel, which can reportedly simulate conditions at speeds up to Mach 30,” the Drive states.
The size, speed, and configuration of the space vehicle may not be known, yet scramjet – which is a similar technology – has existed and been capable of operations for several years now.
What is clear is that China has had a longstanding interest in weaponizing space, and the prospect of a hypersonic space drone or space plane seems entirely consistent with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military ambitions.
For instance, China has been testing ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons since 2007 and seeks the ability to target U.S. satellites and spacecraft.
Space Attack Drone
In more recent years, the advent of hypersonic flight technology has brought new dimensions to space war possibilities, and the concept of a hypersonic space drone or hypersonic missile defense interceptor seems to be quickly entering the realm of possibility.
The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force are now working on the mysterious X-37B space plane, a sleek-looking space travel platform developed in recent years through a partnership with NASA and the Air Force.
Details regarding the technology or mission scope for the X-37B are not available for understandable security reasons, yet its existence certainly invites speculation about the prospect of a weaponized, ultra-high-speed space attack vehicle. Very little is known about the X-37B, apart from U.S. Space Force and NASA information that the vehicle was able to successfully “de-orbit” and return into the earth’s atmosphere.
The possibility of breakthrough space-plane technology demonstrations in the near future seems entirely realistic, given the pace at which hypersonic technology is evolving. Hypersonic flight is already operational in the realm of weapons, and various tests and demonstrations have introduced the possibility of hypersonic drone flight, so it also seems conceivable that there could be some kind of hypersonic “manned” space platform.
When it comes to hypersonic space travel, the operational possibilities seem to have few limits, as a space warfare platform could support high-speed, mobile surveillance, networking space, air, surface, and ground nodes with new dimensions of speed and mobility, conduct offensive space attacks and even perform missile defense missions to track, target and destroy enemy missiles and even ICBMs.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.