Bloodhound rocket test signals coming land speed record reality

Bloodhound SSC Image: Bloodhound SSC

Build it and they will come. The project to make a car capable of going 1,000mph (1,610km/h) is finalising the budget to complete its construction.

There then requires just the money to run it for at least two years - the time it will take first to breach the current land speed record (763mph or 1,228km/h), and thereafter to raise it beyond 1,000mph.

The thinking is that once people see the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car (SSC) for real, the sponsors necessary to complete the job will make themselves available. That's the idea, anyway.

For as long as Bloodhound remains just a "paper vehicle" (or the dream of a computer animator), there will inevitably be some hesitancy, some doubts... which makes this week's first UK firing of the car's hybrid rocket engine all the more important. It's a very visible demonstration of progress.

"We've been very good at being a virtual car, if you like," says chief engineer Mark Chapman.

"We rely very heavily on computational methods, computational design, and we do some great imagery. And people go, 'well, when's that going to happen?'

Mark Chapman: "We will be running next year in South Africa"

"But we're now in manufacture. So perhaps the biggest statement to make is [that] this is the rocket test fire, but this is also the first stage of a column of dominoes that will fall over the next six to 12 months, meaning this time next year we will be in South Africa running the car."

To recap for those who haven't been following this project that closely, Bloodhound is essentially the same team that claimed the land speed record for Britain in 1997.

Then, RAF fighter pilot Andy Green became the first driver to break the sound barrier in a car called Thrust SSC at Black Rock Desert in the US. The project was headed by Richard Noble, with Ron Ayers acting as the chief aero engineer.

US firing of 18in chamber The 18in chamber has been fired before in the US, but the Newquay test will double the chamber pressure

All three are back in this new effort which was launched as an education initiative to spur children's interest in Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). To date, more than 5,000 schools are using the example of Bloodhound and the science of fast cars to enliven their classroom studies.

Quite a number of these children will be on hand at Newquay Cornwall Airport's Aerohub this Wednesday to witness the live firing of Bloodhound's 18in by 12ft (45cm by 3.6m) hybrid motor.

Bloodhound will use three engines to go 1,000mph. Its main power plants are a Eurofighter-Typhoon engine and the hybrid rocket. But the vehicle also incorporates a Cosworth F1 V8 engine as well. Remarkably, its role is "merely" to push a liquid oxidiser into the rocket's fuel chamber.

It will achieve this by driving a high-performance pump, which is actually an updated version of a unit that was used on the UK's old nuclear cruise missiles.

Engineers have the complex task of getting the rocket, the F1-CA2010 engine, and its missile pump to all work in perfect unison.

The Newquay test will be the first time the Bloodhound team has seen the trio and their control system run in anger. It's R&D in public.

Testing will be conducted inside a concrete-hardened hangar used in the past to house Tornado fighter-bombers.

The shelter was built to withstand attack by enemy bombers so if anything should go awry, the watching public - huddled in another Tornado shelter - should be perfectly safe.

Go faster

Britain was very much at the forefront of rocket development during the post-war years.

The Thrust SSC Land Speed Racer races down the Nevada desert floor as it sets the land speed record at Black Rock Desert in Nevada Thrust SSC in its 1997 land speed record run

The biggest system ever tested in the UK was the Blue Streak ICBM. This was done on a static test stand in Cumbria in the early 1970s (300,000lbf; 1,300kN).

More recently, in the 1980s, the Stonechat motors for the Falstaff research rocket were fired at Wescott in Buckinghamshire (60,000lbf; 270kN).

The Bloodhound hybrid is probably the most impressive since then.

"This rocket's designed to produce an average thrust of 25,000lbf, or 111kN, for 20 seconds; and that's what's required in conjunction with the jet engine to get Bloodhound to that 1,000mph," Daniel Jubb, the brains behind the power unit, told me.

"It actually needs to produce a peak thrust of 27,500lbf (122kN), and that peak thrust needs to be right at the end of the burn when the aerodynamic forces on the car, the drag, are at their highest.

"We're actually running at just over half-full chamber pressure on Wednesday, so because the nozzle is optimised for the full thrust firing, we're not going to see massively high levels of thrust, but we then have a series of development firings from later this year through to early spring in which we'll progressively increase the chamber pressure until we get the full performance."

In Wednesday's test, liquid oxidiser (high-test peroxide, or HTP) will be fed into the chamber at a pressure of 600psi (4MPa) to react with the solid fuel (hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, or HTPB). This should deliver an average thrust of 12,000-14,000lbf (50-60kN) with a peak somewhat over that. The burn will last 10 seconds.

Daniel Jubb: "It has exceptionally smooth burn characteristics"

Assuming all goes well, subsequent firings will eventually take the rocket up to its full performance.

As Daniel Jubb explained, a further four "R&D" burns should then prove the technical requirements of the rocket. There will also be an additional 10 "safety and acceptance" firings that will explore some of the rocket's limits, to certify the system for use in a manned vehicle.

All these firings are expected to take place in Newquay. Indeed, when the car does its first roll tests, it is likely to use the Aerohub runway, which means the Cornwall town is going to be an interesting place over the coming year.

It turns out that the full performance of the rocket is not needed to break the land speed record. The team plans to run it in a monopropellant mode only next year. In this configuration, the HTP is passed over a catalyst pack to decompose it into steam and oxygen, but instead of igniting a fuel grain, this superhot gas is allowed simply to vent through the chamber nozzle. This alone should produce 10,000lbf (45kN) of thrust, sufficient with the Eurofighter jet (20,000lbf/90kN) to take Bloodhound through the sound barrier to about 850mph.

Into the sky

All this has me wondering, though. What would happen if you pointed the car towards the sky. How high could it get?

"We've worked that out with some children in a school project," says Mark Chapman. "They were doing Newton's laws, F=ma. That kind of thing. With the full fuel burn onboard, Bloodhound got to 25,000ft and broke the sound barrier at about 17,000ft. It was a kid that asked that question. How high will it go? Fantastic."

Although, we should stress that a huge amount of design effort has gone into making sure this vehicle stays flat on the ground.

Jonathan Amos Article written by Jonathan Amos Jonathan Amos Science correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Improvements to our wellbeing have come from space research perhaps there will be a more practical outcome from this research other than moving at ultra high speed on land. Impressive in its own right but value for money? depends on where you stand of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    20.Eddy from Waring

    "An 8-lane motorway/multiline rail bridge over The Channel."

    Sorry Eddy but we you not just complaining about the lack of new technology?

    This project inspires a new generation of engineers and scientists who will be the ones to fix all the problems of infrastructure etc already mentioned. From my perspective as a science teacher this alone makes it money well spent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Let's achieve a real feat of engineering:

    An 8-lane motorway/multiline rail bridge over The Channel to connect us properly with the mainland. We'd not need that runway then...

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Why do people moan when others show their passion, energy and ingenuity for breaking new ground? I guess these moaners probably weren't happy to cheer along during the 2012 Olympics either, pah!

    Tell me who has never once dreamt of being the fastest, best ever? Plus, we can show the world that Britain has the brains and the b*lls where others don't, e.g, Concorde. Go for it, Bloodhound Team!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    These people on here moaning about projects like this would be the ones living in caves if the rest of the pioneering civilisation hadnt dragged them along with it

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Utterly stupid, pointless, dangerous and the day humanity ceases such ventures is the day I don't want to be human anymore.
    We've explored all corners of the Earth, and it's too difficult and expensive for humans to explore other worlds at the moment, so we're focussing on doing things bigger, better & faster down here. Just ask Ranulph Fiennes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Incredible to see comments on here demeaning the project, It is attempts at breaking engineering records be on land, sea or in space that advances all types of engineering, a lot of space technology uses ideas from projects such as this and likewise the other way round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.


    "...There's a lot more to engineering than what you see on the surface..."


    Indeed. I did engineering at UCL.

    Hence my impression of this project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    11.Eddy from Waring

    I can't see the furtherance of anything here: just the superficial spectacle of a lot of noise and flames.
    How about fluid dynamics & airflow modelling (for low resistance and stability) and materials science & engineering (can you build a wheel that won't fall apart at 1,000 mph?)

    There's a lot more to engineering than what you see on the surface.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Maybe this doesn't involve the development of new technology, but the noise and flames some have criticised are exactly what draws youngsters into the world of Engineering; something the UK is in dire need of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Projects like this show the world that we still have the knack of invention, innovation and design. Now all we need to do is to get manufacturing back in the country from abroad.

    Long live "men in sheds!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is the complete opposite of the Mars Rover project, LHC etc.

    I can't see the furtherance of anything here: just the superficial spectacle of a lot of noise and flames.

    As such it will only attract to science and technology those who aren't really up to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It would have been preferable to have used some of the Olympics cost on this, much more interesting.

    The first plane to break the 1,000 mph was the Fairey Delta 2 so would'nt it be appropriate for another UK vehicle to also do this as well on land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Sorry: but where's the new technology?

    It seems like the coming together of the old for a new but pointless objective.

    I suppose it will provide material for "Top Gear" though...

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I want one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This is so much more important the "(mostly) men building and playing with toys" Projects like this demonstrate that we are still a world force in engineering, cause a new wave of interest in the sciences among the young, create jobs, innovation and international prestige. These are all the things we need to prevent our world "literally collapsing around us"

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It is a shame the government flogged off the Blue Streak project and data to the French. This would have given a massive boost to the research that the Bloodhound team need to do.

    Of course the point of all this is to develop science and technology to make things better for mankind in the long run.

    Don’t be philistines, get behind this and put GB on the map where is belongs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I know you are just doing your job - reporting, and you probably love it.
    BUT I am so tired of (mostly) men building and playing with toys while our world literally collapses around us, including infrastructure.
    Morality would suggest ot me that we ought to put our house in order before we look elsewhere for essentially - entertainment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Bloodhound has been a fantastic teaching aid for STEM subjects as a tool to introduce some of the more obscure mathematics used in a practical scenario.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The 'point of this' is to get children interested in science, as it is this alone that allows our society to go forward. It's better that children get involved and 'see' what the 'boring' science they learn at school actually does. If it weren't for geeks, et. al. we wouldn't be responding to an online version of a TV broadcasting organisation, but still scrounging around in caves!!


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