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Race to near space: Superfast flight

By Zhao Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2016-09-27 08:05

Chinese aerospace researchers are pushing the limits in a new sphere - near space - which promises superfast vehicles for passengers, business and military use.

Nearly half of the 24 entries in the final round of the Third National Design Contest on Future Aircraft and Space Planes, held in Beijing on Monday, had to do with flight in near space.

A total of 284 entries from space institutes, universities and military research establishments across the country, took part in the competition jointly organized by the Chinese Society of Astronautics and the general design department of the Third Academy of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp.

Near space refers to the region of Earth's atmosphere that lies between 20 and 100 kilometers above sea level, encompassing the stratosphere, mesosphere and lower thermosphere - altitudes above the upper limit for commercial airliners but below orbiting satellites.

A team from Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, designed a concept for a cutting-edge spaceliner capable of traveling nearly 20,000 kilometers with 14 passengers.

Dong Haining, a senior aerodynamics researcher at the CASIC Third Academy, who guided the team, told China Daily that near space is a hot field, and China is among the leaders.

"Vehicles traveling in near space have a bright prospect," he said. "They will be able to avoid a lot of negative elements faced by traditional aircraft and spacecraft, and will be able to fly much faster - say, at least Mach 10 (12,360 km per hour)."

"Moreover, they will be capable of traveling a very long distance on less fuel than conventional aircraft."

However, researchers must resolve a host of engineering issues before a prototype can be produced.

"We should keep pace with the United States in this field," said Li Jiawei from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

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