Hypersonic travel is associated with speeds more than five times the speed of sound within Earth’s atmosphere. Today, engineers have achieved air travel reaching over 7 times the speed of sound. The potential for hypersonic flights – a flight that occurs above Mach 5, which is more than 3,000 mph – could make air travel faster and more efficient than ever. Vehicles designed to fly at hypersonic speeds (or re-enter the atmosphere in some cases) must be designed to withstand aerodynamic and inertia, heat, and acoustic loads that these high speeds create. You can see the difference between the designs of commercial aircraft and hypersonic vehicles here – note the sleeker, more compact, and more rigid frame. But while hypersonic travel is typically seen in government and military applications, many people want to see hypersonic travel become commercially viable for everyday travelers.
Due to the extreme demands hypersonic travel imposes on a vehicle’s structure, selecting hardy, flexible materials and minimizing structure weight is vital to keep vehicles capable and safe. For example, if you watch a rocket re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, you might see a giant fireball forming across the front of the vehicle – this phenomenon occurs because of the heat generated at these extreme speeds and the high amount of energy lost because of friction.
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