China is building a world-leading hypersonic wind tunnel to test hypersonic aircraft that can travel at speeds of Mach 25 (30,627kph), media reported, saying it will aid the development of future spacecraft that can transport people or payloads into space at far less cost.
The 265-meter-long wind tunnel, being developed by the State Key Laboratory of High-Temperature Gas Dynamics, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, can simulate wind speeds of between Mach 10 and 25, Han Guilai, a researcher with the lab, said in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview over the weekend.
"China has had the ability to conduct research on hypersonic aircraft. The hypersonic wind tunnel provides a key platform that supports the technological research and verification of hypersonic aircraft used in multiple fields such as aviation, aerospace and the military," Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Hypersonic aircraft are defined as aircraft that travel at speeds of Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, or more, South China Morning Post reported in November 2017.
Han said the current wind tunnel can simulate flights up to Mach 5 to 9, according to the CCTV report.
Although China's current wind tunnel is a world-leader, Han said it faces pressure from other countries as the world races to reach higher speeds.
U.S. media has been speculating about China's hypersonic weapons tests since 2014, with the Washington Free Beacon reporting on the seventh test of the WU-14 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) in April 2016, claiming it is an ultra high-speed missile capable of penetrating U.S. air defense systems.
A hypersonic wind tunnel can simulate and present the status of air vehicles' thermal power and aerodynamic force as if they are flying at a hypersonic speed, according to Song.
It is expected that the tunnel will be up and running by 2020 to assist in the development of China's hypersonic weapons, South China Morning Post reported, citing Zhao Wei, a senior scientist working on the project.
As China starts developing a more advanced hypersonic wind tunnel, it is matching other countries including the U.S. with advanced technology in this field, Song said.
The U.S. military tested a Mach 20 unmanned aircraft, the HTV-2, in 2011 but the hypersonic flight lasted only a few minutes before the vehicle crashed into the Pacific Ocean, South China Morning Post reported.