Space Shuttle Model In A Hypersonic Wind Tunnel

Mach 20 In A Wind Tunnel: Yes, It’s Rocket Science

Hypersonic speeds are defined by those exceeding Mach 5, and lately there’s been a lot of buzz about unmanned hypersonic vehicles making test flights. Vehicles returning from orbital flight also travel at hypersonic speeds as they do their best to transition back to the terrestrial realm. Before anything leaves ground though, these machines are tested in wind tunnels. [Scott Manley]’s video “How Hypersonic Wind Tunnels Recreate Mach 20” (embedded below) does a wonderful job of explaining the engineering behind wind tunnels for testing hypersonic vehicles.

While the earliest wind tunnels such as that used by the Wright Brothers were powered by simple fans, it is not possible for any propeller to surpass subsonic speeds. This is evidenced by there not being any propeller driven aircraft that can exceed Mach 1. Since an aircraft can’t reach those speeds with a propeller, it follows that a wind tunnel cannot be driven by propellers, fans, or any such device, and exceed Mach 1 wind speed, either. So it begs the question: Just how do they do it?

You might think that the answer lays in Bernoulli’s law – but it does not. You might think it involves compressing the air into smaller and smaller tubes and pipes. It doesn’t. As [Scott Manley] so expertly explains in the video below the break, it has quite a lot in common with actual rocket science.

You may be interested to know that we’ve covered some DIY wind tunnel builds as well as a small desktop wind tunnel in the past. While not hypersonic, they’re exactly what you’d want to have if you’re an aerospace hacker of any kind.

Thanks [Zane Atkins] for the tip!

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