Amid intensifying hypersonic race, the Chinese government has released footage showing what it claims to be the “most powerful wind tunnel in the world.”
The recently broadcast state television video also shows the high-speed oblique detonation wave engine, popularly known as a scramjet, used to power the wind tunnel. According to reports, it is claimed to be capable of simulating conditions at speeds of up to Mach 30.
China’s largest 24-hour television news network China Central Television’s (CCTV) Channel 13, broadcast the program, footage from which soon appeared on social media and has since been shared widely.
At the time, it was noted that the JF-22 hypervelocity wind tunnel, which has been given the reputation of being the “cradle of China’s next-generation aircraft,” can achieve a top speed of 10 kilometers per hour (kph), or 30 times the speed of sound, at an altitude of between 40 and 100 kilometers.
Last month, the Chinese Academy of Science’s (CAS) Institute of Mechanics in Beijing announced that the new JF-22 hypervelocity wind tunnel had completed an “acceptance check” and was ready for use.
In a unanimous decision, a delegation comprising 16 experts from diverse institutes and organizations approved the acceptance check for the JF-22 hypervelocity wind tunnel.
This New Wind Tunnel Will Fuel Chinese Space Ambitions
After the video went viral, some military watchers said that the JF-22 wind tunnel, now ready for hypersonic testing, can simulate a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. Some researchers also claimed that by using the JF-22, the Chinese could likely reduce the cost of launching satellites and spacecraft by 90%.
According to researchers, this would be possible since the JF-22 can pave the way for acceleration in the development of newer technologies and help avoid multiple launches to test equipment, which prove to be quite an expensive affair.
Earlier, in an interview with China Central Television in August 2021, the project leader of JF-22, Jiang Zonglin, had also stated that aerospace aircraft could potentially reduce the cost of satellite and spacecraft launches by 90 percent. However, little information has been officially made available about that since.
Military experts opined that the design depicted in the test video shows what appears to be an air-launched spaceplane and mothership concepts that Chinese aerospace businesses and academic institutions have previously displayed to the public on multiple occasions. The footage shows it has a delta-winged and dart-shaped platform, also not uncommon in Chinese aerospace.
EurAsian Times reached out to a PLA watcher and military analyst, Rick Joe, who said, “The wind tunnel itself is just part of extensive Chinese hypersonic development efforts, including several high-speed wind tunnels. The wind tunnel model seen specifically is a hypersonic space plane intended to deploy orbital payloads. As for the significance of it is too early to say. Everyone is looking or has looked into hypersonic aircraft to deploy orbital payloads/satellites. We don’t know if this specific project will emerge into fruition and be pursued.”
When probing further on how the JF-22 wind tunnel would aid in launching spacecraft, Joe said, “Wind tunnels are used for simulating flight using representative models and wind at various speeds. The launch of a spacecraft in any form is done by an aerodynamic vehicle (whether it’s a rocket, or in this case, a high-altitude hypersonic aircraft), so wind tunnel tests are routine for any kind of aerospace project.”
Generally, a wind tunnel (JF-22, in this case) is used to test aerodynamic/aerospace projects. The concept the Chinese are testing is a hypersonic high-altitude aircraft, which in this case, also functions as a mothership to launch an orbital payload.
However, there are currently no signs that the two are connected in any direction. In the JF-22 footage, both test items can be observed to have broad configurations and platforms that resemble various so-called two-stage-to-orbit space launch designs.
Group Captain Arvind Pandey (Retd), a geospatial intelligence professional, told EurAsian Times: “This wind tunnel is old news which China may use for hypersonic testing. Otherwise, a wind tunnel is used to test the aerodynamics of any airworthy object. This could be aircraft, missile, or spacecraft.
“As for the mothership, it relates to a concept where an aircraft/spacecraft can launch an object into the air or space for various missions. In this case, it appears that they are testing this to achieve the 30 Mach speed of the projectile.”
Whatever the case, it is obvious that China, among other nations, has long been interested in developing these kinds of space launch capabilities. According to the Chinese Academy of Science, the JF-22 will aid in creating upcoming hypersonic aircraft.
Additionally, the JF-22 is perfectly suited to aid in testing hypersonic missile concepts. The technology has the potential to improve weapons capabilities in addition to transportation benefits.
As an example of this, an unpowered hypersonic boost-glide vehicle called the DF-ZF was tested using one of its predecessors, the JF-12, which China claims was once the most potent wind tunnel in the world and was powered by a pulse detonation engine. Since then, that project has developed into the DF-17 hypersonic missile, which is already in use.
What Do We Know About The JF-22?
Commencing in 2018, the ‘JF-22 Wind Tunnel project’ has received extensive coverage from Chinese media. Its overall length is said to be just about 548 feet (167 meters), and its “test cabin” measures around 13 feet (four meters) in diameter.
In 2021, state media reported that the “world-leading hypervelocity wind tunnel” expected to simulate speeds of Mach 30 would finish construction by 2022. The report stated that the wind tunnel would “contribute to the country’s hypersonic and aerospace aircraft programs.”
Previous sources state that by using a distinctive operating technology, the Chinese hypersonic test facility sets itself apart from its Western competitors. The JF-22 wind tunnel uses chemical explosions to create hypersonic conditions, unlike facilities in other nations that rely on mechanical compressors to produce high-speed airflow.
This technique produces shock waves similar to those felt by aircraft during hypervelocity flights at great altitudes because the fuel is burned about 100 million times quicker than a typical gas cooker.
The technique also enables the creation of more specialized air flows that can be used to evaluate various materials or vehicle kinds. The JF-22 facility was constructed precisely where the JF-12 wind tunnel in China, which allows for testing up to Mach 9, is located. The article claimed that China intends to deepen its understanding of the hypersonic area by merging data from both facilities.
In his 2021 interview, Jiang Zonglin asserted that hypersonic aircraft, capable of flying at speeds ranging from Mach 5 to 10, would enable travel to any location worldwide within one or two hours.
At the time, Global Times quoted Chinese aerospace expert Fu Qianshao as saying, “Once related technologies reach maturity, hypersonic aircraft could find applications not only in military operations such as reconnaissance and attack but also in civilian sectors like transportation.”
Fu added that creating aerospace aircraft is a long-term goal because it requires improvements to strong engines. Nevertheless, he is confident that the money invested in this area will be profitable.
Hypersonic aircraft have the potential to cut down on travel times drastically. For instance, according to some sources, trips from New York to London might be completed in as little as 90 minutes using aircraft traveling at hypersonic speeds.
China has been developing wind tunnels more quickly lately, a hint that the nation wants to make big strides in hypersonic technology.