Wing Commander Andy Green’s 1997 land speed record may well remain intact. It is just a shame that the person who wants to break it is Green himself.
The man who clocked 763mph almost a quarter of a century ago is the man in the cockpit again for UK-based Bloodhound LSR, an ambitious project that aims to take a specially designed supersonic-surpassing rocket-powered vehicle (plus Green of course) past the 800mph mark in 2021.
However, that objective’s future is now in jeopardy, with the Bloodhound team needing £8million in funding by the end of March in order to re-assemble the crew, upgrade vital equipment, and keep the dream of a new world land speed record alive.
Bloodhound returned from testing at the designated space of the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa at the tail-end of last year, with the vehicle arriving back at the Gloucestershire headquarters in January. They reached speeds topping 600mph in the Kalahari Desert, "exceeding all expectations" for this stage as Green himself told The Sportsman. It is now one of just six vehicles in history to go past that speed, but for it to stand head and shoulders above the rest, the sponsorship needs to arrive.
The man who stepped in to save Bloodhound in 2018, CEO Ian Warhurst, has released a statement saying: “The clock is ticking to raise the necessary investment to re-group the team and crack on with the rocket program and other car upgrades in time to hit our 2021 deadlines. If we miss our cool weather window in July and August, temperatures in the Kalahari will make running a rocket untenable next year.”
The Bloodhound vehicle has been powered by a Rolls Royce EJ 200 jet engine from the Eurofighter Typhoon, which Green describes as "the most power-dense and, importantly, most reliable jet engine in the history of military aviation".
However, the addition of the rocket, which will be provided by Norwegian aerospace company Nammo, will add the necessary 75% extra thrust to push those speeds up to the intended targets.
Furthermore, the rocket needs the ideal conditions only offered by the setting of the sun at certain times of the year, with the time period between July and August 2021 offering the necessary temperatures for the feat. The rocket’s oxidiser becomes unstable at temperatures around 50°C, and with the team experiencing 44°C during their testing last year, hitting that South African winter period next year is obviously of the utmost importance for the rocket’s safe storage.
The rocket is a monopropellant design that uses concentrated hydrogen peroxide (water with an extra oxygen molecule – H2O2) as the propellant. This is pumped at high pressure through silver gauze, which acts as a catalyst, causing it to decompose (split apart) into superheated steam (600°C) and oxygen. The steam and oxygen are channelled through a nozzle to generate thrust at three times the speed of sound (Mach 3) or around 2000mph / 3218kmh.
That ‘rocket fire’ will not be able to be seen should that necessary investment not come along.
“The project remains dormant whilst we try to secure the funding but at a cost of tens of thousands per month of overheads, and the threat that we miss the weather window next year, we cannot remain dormant for long,” added Warhurst, “After all that this project has achieved in the past year to prove its viability, it would be devastating to end here when we are so close. We remain optimistic but really are running out of time.”
Here's hoping the sun is not about to set on this extraordinary record breaking attempt...