The Role of Turbomachinery in Modern Hypersonic Cycles

In the coming age of hypersonics, a variety of engine types and cycles are being innovated and worked on. Yet turbomachinery remains unique in its ability to use a single airbreathing engine cycle to carry an aircraft from static conditions to high speeds. One of the largest limitations of turbomachinery at hypersonic speeds (Mach 5+) is the stagnation temperature, or the amount of heat in the air as it is brought to a standstill. While material improvements for turbomachinery are made over time which increases the effective range of temperatures steadily (Figure 1), this steady rate means that the ability of these materials to allow use at stagnation temperatures of more than 1600K remains unlikely any time soon.

Figure 1 Material Improvements Over Time
Figure 1 Material Improvements Over Time

This is the limiting point for traditional turbojet cycles, as Mach 5+ speeds result in temperatures far exceeding these limitations, even for the compressor. However, improvements in cryogenic storage of liquid hydrogen has allowed the concept of precooling, using the extremely low liquid temperature of hydrogen to cool the air enough to push this Mach number range, as well as improve compressor efficiency. To drive the turbine, the exhaust gas and combustion chamber can used, heating the hydrogen and reducing the nozzle temperature for given combustion properties. This has the added effect of separating the turbine inlet temperature from the combustion temperature, reducing limitations on combustion temperatures.  This type of cycle can reduce the inlet temperatures underneath material limits. Read More