How supercomputing is helping Bloodhound - the world's first 1,000 mph car
HPC Wales is contributing to a British team’s dream of building the world’s first 1000 mile per hour (mph) car.
The current land-speed record was set in 1997 when ThrustSSC became the first car to break the sound barrier, achieving a speed of 763 mph in the Arizona desert. The Bloodhound project – led by many of the key people involved in ThrustSSC including Richard Noble (Project Director) and Andy Green (Driver) – was launched in 2007 with the intention of building a rocket-powered car capable of attaining not just supersonic speeds but the next landmark speed: 1000 mph.
The Bloodhound project also aims to inspire young people to take up careers in science and engineering making all of its research and design material available to teachers, students and visitors to its website (http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/).
Dr Ben Evans of Swansea University is Bloodhound SSC’s Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Engineer. He uses HPC Wales’ supercomputing technology to simulate the car’s behaviour at unprecedented high speeds. According to Dr Evans:
“Nobody has ever done anything like this before. To take a vehicle like this, on the ground, to 1,000 miles per hour, significantly faster than the speed of sound, is incredibly ground breaking – and incredibly ambitious. Which is why we need the most sophisticated technology at our disposal to make sure we can do this safely.”
For a project such as Bloodhound SSC the use of computer simulations as part of the design process is essential. Due to the speeds involved (and the space required to accelerate to and decelerate from these speeds) high-speed testing of the car will only be possible once the team are on-site at the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa in 2014. So, CFD is used to model and then simulate the behaviour of the car at supersonic speeds. This allows the Bloodhound SSC team to understand how the car will behave at these speeds and optimise the performance and safety of the car at a very early stage in the design process. However, as Dr Evans explains these CFD simulations need to be run on high performance computers:
“Using high performance computers is the only way, really, you can do realistic flow simulations for a vehicle as complex as this. You simply couldn’t do them on a standard laptop or desktop PC.
“There are lots of things we need to understand about the aerodynamics of the vehicle to make sure that it’s safe; we need to understand where the loads are distributed across the vehicle, we need to understand if we’ve got the drag (the resistive force of the air that will be pushing on the car) as low as it can be so that our engines can propel us to the speeds we are going for; and to do the modelling to understand all of that requires some incredibly complex calculations to process massive amounts of data.
“HPC Wales has been invaluable to us, simply because of the size of the machine and the amount of resource that we’ve got access to. It allows us to run simulations much quicker than we’ve ever been able to do before, which has allowed us to run more simulations than we’ve ever been able to do before. This has allowed us to understand this vehicle better than really we’d ever hoped to be able to do at this stage of the project.
“The support that I’ve received working with HPC Wales has been fantastic. Whenever I have had a problem or a question there have always been people right there who have been able to respond almost immediately and sort out the little problems that you inevitably have working on something like this.”
Whilst not everyone will have a need to drive around in a 1,000mph vehicle any time soon, this ambitious engineering project will lead to technologies that can be spun out into other more general applications, for example, Dr Evans explains:
“We’ve developed techniques for simulating dust and particle entrainment into the flow around Bloodhound and we’re now thinking about how we can apply that technology to things like high-speed trains and aircraft landing on wet runways, just as examples.”
Through the work of Dr Evans, HPC Wales is playing an integral part in the success of the Bloodhound SSC project: building a car capable of travelling at over 1,000 mph and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers across Britain.