UK rocket test for 1,000mph car

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

image captionDaniel Jubb is the brains behind the Falcon rocket

The first full test firing of the rocket that will power a British car to over 1,000mph (1,610km/h) will take place in the coming months.

Producing 122kN (27,000lbf) of thrust, the hybrid Falcon motor will be the largest rocket to be ignited in the UK for 20 years.

It will not be the only power unit in the Bloodhound vehicle when it tries to break the land speed record next year.

There will also be a jet from a fighter plane and the engine from an F1 car.

The team behind the project believes this trio of power units could secure the absolute land speed record for Britain for many years to come.

"We are creating the ultimate car; we're going where no-one has gone before," said Richard Noble, the Bloodhound project director.

Several locations are being considered for the rocket test.

They include places with historic connections to the land speed record - places such as Pendine in West Wales where several records were set in the 1920s, and at Shoeburyness in eastern England where the engines for the current record holder, the Thrust SSC vehicle, were tested. Both these locations have military evaluation centres.

Bloodhound's 45cm-wide, 3.6m-long (18in by 12ft) rocket will be British designed and built.

It will burn a mixture of solid propellant (HTPB, or hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene) and liquid oxidiser (high-test peroxide, HTP) for 20 seconds.

To put its peak thrust of 122kN in context, it is equivalent to the combined horsepower of about 645 family saloon cars.

Added to the 90kN of thrust coming from the EJ200 Eurofighter-Typhoon jet, Bloodhound should have sufficient energy to put itself 8km away from a standing start in just 100 seconds.

The rocket is being developed by the Falcon Project Ltd, a specialist rocketry company based in Manchester and led by 27-year-old self-trained rocketeer Daniel Jubb.

"We've done 10 firings to date of our six-inch model - that was in the Mojave Desert in California," explained Mr Jubb.

"We've also done one on the 18-inch Bloodhound model, but it was pressure-fed; it wasn't done using our new pump and that's the point about this upcoming test."

The Falcon will need almost a tonne of HTP pushed through it, which is the job of the F1 engine.

Cosworth, which manufactures power units for several cars on the F1 grid, are making one of their CA2010 engines available just to drive the Falcon's oxidiser pump.

Engineers at Cosworth will have to meet several new challenges to make the CA2010 work in Bloodhound. For one thing, it is sitting back-to-front compared with its usual mounting in an F1 vehicle, and this means its oil lubricant will move about the engine in a different way.

This will need to be managed carefully if the engine is to run efficiently. The design team also has to figure out how to let the engine "breathe" when it is sitting in a car moving at 1,000mph.

"To the best of my knowledge there isn't a piston engine operating anywhere that's in a vehicle that's running at supersonic speed," said Cosworth chief executive Tim Routsis.

"It means the way you actually connect the engine to the outside world needs an awful lot of thought because if we were to feed it a supersonic airflow we would give it a fairly epic amount of boost and it would be very powerful for an extremely short period of time.

"In areas like this, we are moving into the unknown."

image captionThe CA2010 will sit "back-to-front" in the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car

The production of the Bloodhound car's body formally began last month. The vehicle should be finished and ready to begin "low speed" trials on a UK runway in the first half of next year before being shipped to Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape for high-speed runs in late 2012 or 2013.

The Bloodhound venture was conceived not just as another record bid but as a project that could inspire children to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.

Some one and a half million children in more than 4,000 British schools are now involved in the Bloodhound Education Programme.

Many more around the globe have access to online teaching resources via IT partner Intel Corporation's "Skoool" initiative.

"When Richard first talked to me about Bloodhound I got very engaged, very quickly, because I saw it as a wonderful platform through which we can introduce the young boys and girls to the sort of world that we work in," said Mr Routsis.

"We can show them that STEM subjects are not just boring things you do in a classroom, but they can actually lead to an extremely interesting set of challenges that you can address in a very fulfilling life."

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