Chinese scientists are hard at work developing a supersonic submarine that will potentially be able to travel from Shanghai to San Francisco in under two hours, shorter than the flight-time from Shanghai to Beijing.
Hey, sounds a lot more feasible than the China-to-US railway.
According to, Li Fengchen, a professor of fluid machinery and engineering at the Harbin Institute of Technology, the sub, called a ‘supercavitating vessel,’ will be enveloped inside a bubble so it won’t be slowed down by water drag – a factor that prevents submersibles from traveling as fast as aircraft.
Such a vessel could theoretically reach the speed of sound underwater, approximately 5,800km/h, or over twice the speed of a Concorde jet! A Soviet supercavitation torpedo reportedly attained a speed of over 370km/h, exponentially faster than regular torpedoes.
The supersonic sub project will have to overcome a multitude of obstacles before the technology is fully realized, including the fact that conventional steering will be near impossible inside the bubble, and that the vessel will need to be launched at high speeds to form and maintain the bubble.
Still, Chinese researchers have come up with a number of ways to circumvent these problems. SCMP reports:
“Once in the water, the team’s supercavitation vessel would constantly “shower” a special liquid membrane on its own surface. Although this membrane would be worn off by water, in the meantime it could significantly reduce the water drag on the vessel at low speed. After its speed had reached 75km/h or more the vessel would enter the supercavitation state. The man-made liquid membrane on the vessel surface could help with steering because, with precise control, different levels of friction could be created on different parts of the vessel.”
If/when completed, the technology will benefit more than just the military, and could aid civilian underwater transport as well as, wait for it, swimming. Said one researcher, “if a swimsuit can create and hold many tiny bubbles in water, it can significantly reduce the water drag; swimming in water could be as effortless as flying…..”
Don’t get any ideas, Olympic swim team….