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BLOODHOUND SSC car set to speed up STEM research

By Dave Rowley

One of the most exciting engineering events to take place anywhere in the world in 2013 will play out in the Northern Cape when the BLOODHOUND Super Sonic Car (SSC) team arrives with their car and heads for Hakskeenpan.

The team’s aim is not just to break the world land speed record (WLSR) but to increase it by a staggering 31% – a step change unseen since the first record was set in France in 1898.

Attempting to design and build a car capable of travelling at over 1 600 kph (1 000 mph) may seem crass during a worldwide recession and when other issues appear eminently more important to our future survival. We face numerous challenges, not least of all who will come up with the answers to global warming, the development of new energy sources, food, clean water and shelter for all, and the need for more sustainable forms of transport. Who are the people who are supposed to come up with the answers to these challenges? The answer is, of course, scientists and engineers – politicians allowing! And here lies the major problem, not just for South Africa but for most developed countries worldwide. Where will these experts be found?

BLOODHOUND SSC research and experience to be shared with schools

Research carried out in the UK, USA and Australia mirrors concerns here in South Africa. The search for young people with skills in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects will become more difficult. Many companies report having trouble recruiting staff with STEM skills, with manufacturing and science-related businesses having the greatest difficulties.

But what has all this got to do with the BLOODHOUND SSC project? The programme is unique compared with other leading-edge technology projects in that all the research, design, manufacture and testing to do with the car will be shared with schools, colleges and universities throughout the world. That information will include the problems faced by the team.

Given that they are able to share project information with all schools in South Africa, the BLOODHOUND SSC education team (BET) hopes that teachers will use it to bring science, maths and technology to life in the classroom. The BLOODHOUND SSC programme was launched in the UK in 2008 and, to date, almost 5 000 schools have registered on the website to download curriculum resource materials. The resources cover primary and secondary education, and also include interactive whiteboard materials for primary schools that cover maths, science and technology. Balloon and air rocket cars can be manufactured using the Bloodhound template available from the education team in South Africa.

The BET has developed a strategy to work with existing organisations and networks, thereby bringing greater coherence to the promotion of STEM in education. Industry, government and especially teachers and lecturers have long wished to see rationalisation of initiatives, and this has been delivered by the BLOODHOUND education programme (BEP), resulting in greater partnership activity and joined-up delivery. The BEP is the first complete example of this coherent working methodology, and is bringing about an exciting new dimension to what is already available and encapsulating it within a BLOODHOUND SSC theme.

Working to a rigorous schedule

The BLOODHOUND SSC engineering team has now finalised the car’s aerodynamic shape, thanks to Dr Ben Evans at Swansea University School of Engineering and its Intel supercomputer clusters. Construction of the car has now started and the challenge is now to raise the R43 million (£3.6 million) required to complete the build programme. The BEP is now looking to grow the bank of curriculum resources available on  the website that will enrich teaching in the classroom and enable learners to follow the programme in real time. This is where companies like Cisco in South Africa will help to ensure all the video and car data is available virtually as it happens via the internet.

The schedule that the BLOODHOUND SSC team is working to is rigorous; the car roll-out is in December 2012, followed by low-speed (circa 200 kph) runs in the UK and then it’s off to Hakskeenpan in the Northern Cape of South Africa.

Northern Cape provides the perfect surface for a test run But why is the project coming to the Northern Cape and a little-known desert pan in the Mier district? Due to global warming, there are very few long, flat and hard surfaced, uninhabited places where it is possible to run a car at 1.4 times the speed of sound (Mach 1.4). Due to the lack of rainfall in the traditional run locations in the USA and Australia, their surfaces have not flooded – this helps to physically repair the surface, which is akin to the tide coming in and leaving a nice flat sandy beach when it ebbs. The BLOODHOUND team scoured the world and Hakskeenpan was found, following survey work by the Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works. Only two hours’ drive from Upington – with one of the longest runways in the world that will enable the team to arrive with the car and support vehicles – the R31 road cuts through the northern edge of the pan. The Northern Cape government has also provided a local workforce – using hand tools so as not to damage the surface – to clear 24 million m² of stones and pebbles from the track, which measures 19 km by 1.5 km.

The BLOODHOUND SSC project is being led by Richard Noble OBE, who has assembled an engineering team in Bristol to research and design a car with a design speed of 1 050 mph. The engineers are supported by over 200 British companies, universities and research organisations excited by the thought of pushing our knowledge boundaries in science, technology and manufacturing.

Category: Winter 2012

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