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Hypersonic weapons, hydrogen, and spinning rocket launches: 5 most-read aerospace stories 2022

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An artist's illustration of the Lockheed Martin Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (Credit: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics)
An artist's illustration of the Lockheed Martin Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (Credit: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics)

The knife-edge battle for strategic advantage in war often motivates rapid change in the aerospace sector, as shown by the conflict in Ukraine. Hypersonic weapons quickly came to fore after the Russian invasion, which also brought waves of ongoing drone attacks against civilians and infrastructure. Elsewhere, the aviation industry’s push for sustainability and increasing use of the space environment were key drivers for innovation this year.

Here are the five most-read Professional Engineering aerospace stories of 2022. Click on the links throughout to read the full stories. 

Hypersonic weapon development accelerates

Facing stalemate on many fronts just weeks after invading Ukraine, Russia deployed a new hypersonic missile as it searched for a quick win. Western nations responded swiftly, and in April the Australia-UK-US (Aukus) partnership committed to new co-operation on hypersonic weapons and counter-hypersonics.  

A new generation of hypersonic weapons could offer warring nations a strategic advantage – but, as the most read story of the year showed, engineers have some hurdles to overcome.

Farnborough Airshow returns

The skies were filled with the roar and rumble of fighter jets and swooping airliners once again as the Farnborough International Airshow returned in July. Supersonic passenger jets, hydrogen propulsion and the Vertical Aerospace VX4 flying taxi were amongst the projects showcasing impressive progress after a four-year absence.

James Webb Space Telescope deploys

The James Webb Space Telescope team fully deployed the spacecraft’s 22m sunshield days after its launch, a key milestone in preparations for science operations. The five-layered sunshield protects the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun. Each plastic sheet is about as thin as a human hair and coated with reflective metal, providing protection equivalent to more than 1m SPF.

The Hubble successor has already started to revolutionise astronomy less than a year after launch, sending dazzling images of the cosmos back to Earth.  

Spinning rocket launch system could transform access to space

Considering the limits of conventional rocket launches, aerospace entrepreneur Jonathan Yaney looked to 1960s military research projects for inspiration. Then came the thought – instead of firing them, why not spin rockets up to speed? The result is SpinLaunch, which aims to use its suborbital and orbit accelerators to launch reusable flight vehicles upwards at supersonic speeds.

FlyZero reveals vision of the future

In March, the Aerospace Technology Institute unveiled a vision of the future for aviation. Designed to demonstrate the potential of carbon-free flight, the three distinctive FlyZero aircraft concepts would all be powered by liquid hydrogen, which the project previously determined as the most promising zero-carbon fuel. According to its studies, hydrogen could be used for 100% of short-haul flights and 93% of existing scheduled long-haul flights.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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