China has moved a step closer to creating a supersonic submarine that could travel from Shanghai to San Francisco in less than two hours. Not much is known about the team’s progress because it is a military project, but the SCMP reports that Germany, Iran and the US are working on similar projects.
The team from the Harbin Institute of Technology was inspired by a supersonic torpedo invented by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Water yields more friction on an object than air, which should mean that a submerged boat or weapon could never travel at the same speed as an airplane.
But the Soviet military figured out how to put a missile inside an air bubble to cheat this rule of science — a process known as ‘supercavitation’. They created the Shakval, a torpedo that could reach speeds of over 379 km/h, much faster than any other torpedo available.
The Chinese team, led by engineering professor Li Fengchen, sought to apply the same process to a submarine by overcoming two central problems. The submarine would need to be launched at speeds of up to 100 km/h in order to generate the air bubble. It would also require very advanced steering because the ship’s rudder would be inside the bubble, not touching the water. The answer was found in the form of a manmade liquid membrane that would cover the submarine’s surface. The result is a vessel that could reach the speed of sound, crossing the entire Pacific Ocean in approximately 100 minutes. Once supercavitation is harnessed, it could be incorporated into any underwater activity.
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Siobhan R.// SMC Editor