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June 13, 2011

How to build a 1,000 mph car

Excerpts from an article in the May 5, 2011 issue of The Economist follow.

This summer Daniel Jubb... will undertake the first full test firing of a hybrid rocket which he has designed to help a British team set a new land-speed record by driving at 1,000mph (1,609kph). Mr Jubb’s rocket, however, will also need the assistance of a powerful EJ200 jet engine from a Typhoon fighter aircraft and a Cosworth Formula 1 racing engine if Bloodhound SSC is to become the fastest thing on wheels.

Combining a rocket, a jet and a racing-car engine into one vehicle is engineering of an extreme sort, but record-breaking often demands that new problems be solved. Mr Jubb’s task was to build a rocket that could be used safely in a car, but was also controllable and could be switched off quickly in the event of an emergency.

The hybrid design which Mr Jubb has come up with uses a solid fuel called hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, a form of synthetic rubber used to make things like aircraft tyres. It is contained within the case of the rocket, into which is pumped a liquid oxidiser called high-test peroxide (HTP), a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide which is relatively safe to handle. When the HTP comes into contact with a catalyst contained within the rocket, it turns into steam and oxygen. And it does so at a high enough temperature to ignite the solid fuel. This provides the added advantage of not having to build an ignition system into the rocket.

At first there will be a stream of steam coming from the rocket. But then ignition gets going and at full blast the jet and the rocket will each provide about half of the 210,000 newtons (47,000 pounds) of thrust needed to break the record. At about 750mph the car will go through the sound barrier. Wing Commander Green has been there before—and not only in a fighter plane. In 1997 at Black Rock Desert, Nevada, he drove Thrust SSC to become the first person to break the sound barrier in a car and set the existing land-speed record of 763mph. This time the Nevada desert will not be big enough, so the attempt will take place over an even larger expanse of flat ground at Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape in South Africa, perhaps next year.

Bloodhound SSC could reach up to 1,050mph. Wing Commander Green then has to slam on the brakes. After turning off the jet and rocket he will deploy an air brake at 800mph, parachutes at 600mph and finally put his foot on a car-type friction brake at 250mph—any faster and the brakes could explode.

Unusually for such an enterprise, all the technical details, including computer-aided design files, are available online (bloodhoundssc.com). Mr Noble is involving schools in the project to encourage interest in engineering as a career. So far, more than 4,000 schools are taking part.

So there it is: time to break out your own private skunkworks out back.

More videos here.

I love the message at the end of the video up top: "Our cars are not like your cars."

June 13, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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