“So far, the CTS tests available in other countries support one-body movement only. In the hypersonic range, there is no report of CTS being used at all,” according to Lin and her coworkers.
Dangers of Mach 6 speed
However, Lin cautions that separating the aircraft from its payload at such high speeds could be risky.
“Whether the storage can be safely separated from the aircraft becomes a big problem,” she said.
Shock waves, vortexes, and other airflow patterns may form when a hypersonic aircraft separates from another item due to the high speed and pressure, which can increase the likelihood of a collision between the plane and its cargo.
Wind moving at such a high speed can create explosion-level shocks. The robotic arms have to be able to proceed with an inaccuracy of one micrometer or less. At the same time, it also has to withstand repeated shocks for close to a minute.
Chinese researchers had to create novel sensors, computer algorithms, and ultrafast communication systems to overcome these obstacles.
“During the Mach 6 experiment,” the team “observed the formation of shock waves between the hypersonic aircraft and separating cargo. These shocks bounced back and forth between the surface of the two bodies, causing the cargo to lose speed and assume an unexpected pitch that could lead to a collision with the aircraft,” said Lin.