Wind tunnels have been used to test race cars, fighter planes, even bobsleds, but there's only one wind tunnel in the world that can hit Mach 30. The LENS-X wind tunnel can hit the hypersonic speeds necessary to test the latest ultrafast aircraft, space planes, and NASA's Orion space vehicle (pictured). Every time they crank it up to full speed, it uses enough energy to launch a Saturn rocket. That's one bad-ass wind tunnel.A few weeks ago, we told you about the most powerful electron microscope in the world, the TITAN 80-300 Cubed, located in Hamilton, Ontario. It turns out the most powerful wind tunnel in the world is about an hours' drive away, in a suburb of Buffalo, NY (the suburb I grew up in, incidentally). The LENS-X hypersonic wind tunnel is one of three wind tunnels operated by Cal-span University at Buffalo Research Center (CUBRC), a non-profit research company with the very io9-ish slogan, "Advantage Through Technology." The LENS-X can handle aircraft up to 30 feet long and generate speeds above 25,000 mph. CUBRC also developed the latest equipment and software needed to actually analyze those velocities. In their words, "a suite of the most advanced aerothermal, aero-optical, spectrographic and laser-diode based intrusive and non-intrusive diagnostic instrumentation currently available." Advantage Through Technology! The tunnel has been used to study fighter planes, new jet engine designs, space shuttle launches, spacecraft re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, and even re-entry into Mars' atmosphere. NASA is using it to work on the design of the Orion launch craft, and the U.S. ski team even uses it to tweak their downhill times (though I don't believe they go hypersonic). The wind tunnel is a major money saver. Instead of field or flight testing your design, which usually ends up destroying the prototype and costing a few million dollars, you can make a reusable prototype and test it in the tunnel for a few hundred thousand dollars. Advantage Through Technology! Image by: NASA. Calspan-UB unveils world's most powerful wind tunnel. [The Buffalo News]
...and generate speeds above 25,000 mph.
Sweet Boneless Christ! That's "escape velocity"!
Spacecraft only need to go 17,500 mph to maintain orbit!
And that's in hard vacuum.
Just how the hell do you even propel a gas to such velocities?
Can you imagine the heat & pressures?
What's the point, even?
Well, I found an "Orders of Magnitude (speed)" chart on Wikipedia, and I see that the fastest reentry ever was the Stardust sample return capsule at 28,856 mph, so I guess there is a good reason for it.