A hypersonic jet engine that could travel at 16 times the speed of sound has been successfully tested in a Chinese wind tunnel, according to reports.
The prototype is called a Soramjet engine and, if ever scaled up and installed into commercial planes, could allow travel to any part of the world in less than two hours.
Researchers from Beijing who led the project say the engine could be used to power planes that take off from a traditional runway, fly into orbit and land at an airport after re-entering the planet's atmosphere.
Should such hypersonic engines ever be mastered, they could also be used as devastating military weapons.
A hypersonic jet engine that could travel at 16 times the speed of sound has been successfully tested in a Chinese wind tunnel, according to reports. Pictured, the Soramjet in the wind tunnel
According to the report, the new engine consists of a single-stage air inlet which directs air into a combustion chamber where it ignited the on-board hydrogen fuel
Tests at the JF-12 shock tunnel in Beijing were performed at up to and including Mach nine - nine times the speed of sound. The speed of sound is 767mph.
The experiment was a success and the engine was working steadily, the South China Morning Post reports.
Researchers revealed the revolutionary technology in a peer-reviewed scientific paper published by Jiang Zonglin, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Success at Mach nine was made possible by taking a different approach to the other known form of hypersonic jet engines, known as scramjets.
Left: a photo of the tet engine provided in the scientific paper. Right: its installation in the JF-12 wind tunnel in Beijing
These are different to traditional turbojet engines seen on current planes and they have no moving parts.
Instead, they use their rapid speed to compress the air in front of them and this in turn combusts the fuel, creating propulsion.
However, these engines, which are still in their testing phase and yet to have any real-world implications, have a major flaw which stops them exceeding Mach 7.
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The mission has to be completed within one lunar daytime - about 14 Earth days - as the probe is not equipped to withstand the freezing night.
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The reliance on compressing air in front of the engine and using that means the inevitable shockwaves - sonic booms - would put the flames out, forcing the engine to cut out.
Soramjets are based on a theory initially put forward by an engineer named Richard Morrison in 1980 who said the shockwaves could be used to ignite the fuel, not only negating the issue scramjet's face but turning it into a positive.
According to the report, the new engine consists of a single-stage air inlet which directs air into a combustion chamber where it ignited the on-board hydrogen fuel.
Professor Jiang led a team of experts who set about building a machine that uses this technique from scratch.
It was a success and, unlike scramjets, the new design managed to function at up to Mach nine conditions.
The wind tunnel was unable to replicate conditions beyond this, and there is no lab on Earth yet capable of testing the hypothesis that it could function at Mach 16.
An unnamed expert not involved in the study told SCMP the publications are vetted heavily to ensure no information on China's latest technology is leaked.
This is because of the investment the Chinese government has in th hypersonic programme for its applications as a weapon, which is shrouded in mystery and an avenue the Asian superpower is actively pursuing.