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Headlines Published on 9 November 2007

Title Around the world in 80 minutes?

The European Union is helping to make faster air travel a real possibility for the future by funding LAPCAT II, the second stage of the European Space Agency’s studies into a hypersonic, suborbital civil means of transport capable of flying from Brussels to Sydney in as little as two hours. The second stage of LAPCAT, which will begin in October 2008 and last for 36 months, will be injected with EUR 10 million in funding. It will concentrate on developing new advanced propulsion concepts and technologies for suborbital aircraft.

Brussels to Sydney in two hours could be a future reality.
Brussels to Sydney in two hours could be a future reality.
Demand for air transport is predicted to triple in the next 20 years and this is a major challenge for the European aviation industry. Experts have said that there needs to be a breakthrough in aircraft technologies that can lead to a newly competitive age of air travel; this is the aim of LAPCAT II (Long-term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies).

The first stage of LAPCAT, which ends in April 2008, has already concluded that hydrogen is the best fuel for the potential hypersonic aircraft, and LAPCAT II will analyse the hydrogen-fuelled Mach 5 and Mach 8 transport concepts in more detail.

LAPCAT II is a Specific Targeted Research Project (STREP) and is funded by the Commission under its Sixth Framework Programme. To reduce travelling times on long-distance flights, advanced propulsion technologies and concepts must be developed. 'When the technology is established people will have easier and faster access to all world destinations,' says Dr Johan Steelant of the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands. 'Places such as Asia, Australia and South America will be reachable from Europe within 2 to 4 hours, based on these advanced propulsion and vehicle concepts.'

Partners of LAPCAT II will target ram-compression and active compression during the duration of the project. Active compression has an upper Mach number limitation but can accelerate a vehicle up to its cruise speed. Ram-compression engines have to have an additional propulsion system to achieve their minimum working speed. Some key objectives of the project are the design of air breathing engines for trajectory points; dedicated combustion experiments for supersonic and high-pressure combustion, including potential fuels and interaction with flow-field turbulence; and aerodynamic experiments for major engine components and the establishment of data on interaction of vehicle and propulsion aerodynamics.

'The necessary know-how is not available in any single country,' explains Dr Steelant. 'Specialised disciplines are needed to reach our goals and, although they are available, they are scattered over Europe. Also, experience and knowledge in a certain discipline needs to be tuned to the requirements and limitations of other disciplines. Hence, understanding of multiple disciplines is of great importance in this highly integrated vehicle-propulsion design.'

More information:

  • Aeronautics in the EU
  • European space policy

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