Chinese researchers have reportedly achieved a groundbreaking milestone in aerospace propulsion, unveiling what is claimed to be the “world’s most powerful rotating detonation engine.” This revolutionary air-breathing engine, developed by Zhang Yining and his team at the Beijing Power Machinery Institute in collaboration with the People’s Liberation Army’s 93160 Unit, could potentially transform intercontinental travel by reaching altitudes of 18.6 miles (30 km) and speeds around Mach 16.
The newly designed engine, described as “revolutionary” by the South China Morning Post, operates in two distinct modes, as outlined in a blueprint published in the Chinese Journal of Propulsion Technology. In its sub-Mach 7 mode, the engine functions as a continuous rotating detonation engine (RDE). Air and fuel mix, initiate a shock wave that propels the aircraft with powerful and constant thrust.
As the aircraft accelerates beyond Mach 7, the engine transitions to the second mode. In this phase, the shock wave ceases rotation and focuses on a circular platform at the engine’s rear, maintaining thrust through a nearly straight-line oblique detonation format. The researchers highlight the efficiency of their design, emphasizing its potential to significantly improve thermodynamic cycle efficiency compared to conventional turbofan engines.
Although efficiency figures were not disclosed, the researchers suggest that the detonation engine could convert approximately 80% of chemical energy into kinetic energy, a substantial improvement over the 20-30% efficiency range typically achieved by conventional turbofan engines.
Zhang’s team underscores the uniqueness of their design, integrating rotational and straight-line detonation across a broad speed range. They claim it to be a “world first” anstament to Chinese ingenuity, foreseeing a “revolutionary change in aerospace propulsion.”
Transitioning between the two operating modes posed challenges, particularly as the speed approached Mach 7. The researchers propose potential solutions, including reducing incoming air speed or making adjustments to the engine’s internal structure. While the engine demonstrated efficiency in various operating conditions, the researchers caution that practical implementation requires additional engineering parameters not included in their research paper.
In essence, the reported advancements in Chinese hypersonic engine technology signal a significant leap forward in aerospace propulsion, with potential implications for the future of intercontinental travel and military applications. However, practical development and implementation hinge on addressing engineering challenges and refining the presented design.