A computer-generated image of the hypersonic space plane ready for takeoff.

A computer-generated image of the hypersonic space plane ready for takeoff.


Vertical-takeoff version of the same hypersonic space plane.

Vertical-takeoff version of the same hypersonic space plane.


Faculty members from the University of Maryland teamed with Astrox Corp., College Park, Md., to develop the combustor design.

Astrox President Ajay Kothari says the engine is shaped like a funnel, with air entering through a circular opening. The design, the company says, develops more thrust and less heat than a rectangular scramjet engine. Kothari and his team designed an injector resembling a small aerodynamic wing. Fuel is injected just at the wake where the air, which is moving at supersonic speeds, crosses the injector.

Researchers have tested the design at Mach 2 in the university's supersonic wind tunnel. Kothari plans to test the technology in a small model space plane. "Hypersonic space planes could revolutionize the transportation industry, much like jet planes did for subsonic commercial aviation 50 years ago," Kothari says.