Land Speed Record = Safer Space Flight?

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There are, admittedly, a lot of benefits from racing that trickle down into our every day cars. Disc brakes are just one example. Much better and much cheaper than old style drum brakes. Rarely, if ever, does it seem that the technology trickles up.

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The fine English fellows that are running the Bloodhound land speed record (LSR) car that is aiming to beat the 1000 MPH mark seem to think that they got a race car that can, when all is said an done, will actually benefit the space program.

Now, admittedly what the Bloodhound SSC team is trying to do is not exactly novel, but it is about as extreme as you can get with a wheeled vehicle – hell, it would be extreme to strap it to Chuck Yeager ass.


What they want to do with Bloodhound is go over the Big Ton, aka 1000 MPH. To do that, they will power the beast with an engine from a Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet AND a hybrid liquid/solid fuel rocket motor designed by an American military rocket motor company called Falcon Project Limited. The gearhead cherry on top is this little item: To keep the rocket fed with fuel, Bloodhound will use a Cosworth Formula 1 racing engine as a fuel pump.

Technically sweet, as J. Robert Oppenheimer would say, don’t you think?

So, how does this group of car crazies gone wild (Bloodhound will be driven by RAF test pilot Andy Green, the guy that drove the Thrust SSC to its sound barrier breaking run, and the Bloodhound team is the core group of people from Thrust) make the argument that their LSR car will help space flight?

Bloodhound 2

Mr. Jubb from Falcon Project Limited explains it thusly: “We looked at every combination of liquid fuels, but we needed a very compact system to provide Bloodhound with the impulse it needs to get to 1000 mph and none could provide that.” In other words, all of the all-liquid options weighed way too much. “The cryogenic temperatures that liquid oxygen needed would have placed an extreme risk to our driver Andy Green, too,” Jubb added.

So? How does this help, exactly? Because what had been used in these hybrid rocket motors by the likes of SpaceShipOne/Richard Branson/Scaled Composites was a mixture of solid fuel – an aviation rubber called polybutadiene – and a liquid oxidizer: nitrous oxide. And it turns out that in rocket motor applications, nitrous oxide has some, erm, instabilities that make its use and handling rather problematic (i.e. problematic = ka-BOOM in some instances).


So Jubb and the Falcon Project Limited people are going with hydrogen peroxide, known as high-test peroxide, as their oxidizer. High-test peroxide is liquid at room temperature, unlike nitrous oxide, which must be stored at high pressure. Meaning that HTP less likely to build up high pressures that can cause an explosion according to Jubb. Also, HTP is a more potent oxidizer, meaning that when it is mixed with the solid polybutadiene fuel, Bloodhound should take off like, well, a frickin’ rocket.

And this is where things get real hairy, real quick. The Bloodhound SSC will be capable of quadrupling the top speed seen by a Bugatti Veyron. You think things can get real bad, real fast at 240-something in a road car? Kid stuff in comparison to what Andy Green is going to be facing.

I remember when Art Arfons had a big accident with one of his Green Monster LSR cars. He was doing in the mid-400s (God I love typing that) when something went catastrophically wrong. The upshot being the car was totaled and Art was in the hospital, but the devastation by the crash was mind-boggling. The found pieces of The Green Monster four miles away from when the accident started. Four miles. Think about that for a second or three. That’s almost twice around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Go to Google maps and see where you are right now, and look at where four miles away is. Now imagine getting in a car wreck and finding pieces of your car that far away.

They better get this right. They better have all the Is dotted and the Ts crossed and the sums adding up, because if they don’t, well … I’m sure it will be a moving eulogy for RAF Commander Green.

So, as you can tell, I am enthused about this as I am with any other LSR attempt (have I mentioned I love-love-love land speed racing?), but the only thing that bugs me is real estate. For some reason, Bloodhound, Andy, Daniel and the whole crew will be making their run at some place called Hakskeen Pan, in South Africa, which, it would seem, has their own set of salt flats.

Now I have nothing against Hakskeen Pan, or even South Africa for that matter. It just sort of bugs me that they’re not doing it over here in the Good Ol’ U. S. of A. at the Bonneville Salt Flats the way God, Ab Jenkins, Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove at all the rest intended.

Ad astra boys!

Source: New Scientist, Pictures from Flickr user Loyless, Mike Cantell, exfordy, robadOb and Paul Morriss.

  1. Art’ was actually travelling at over six hundred when he crashed the Green Monster at Bonneville in ’66. The reason that they’re not using Bonneville for the Bloodhound run’s is simply down to it not being long enough.

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