DARPA Pursues Mach 20 Hypersonic Aircraft


DARPA continues to pursue development of a hypersonic craft that can travel anywhere in the world in less than an hour, and last week gave the public a glimpse into just what technological areas the agency is focusing on to make that goal a reality.

Among its five primary technology areas of interest, the first listed by DARPA is thermal protection. The failure of DARPA's hypersonic HTV-2 vehicle over the Pacific last August – which took place after the craft's skin peeled off about nine minutes into the flight – was blamed on the vehicle's inability to handle the extreme temperatures encountered during the super-fast flight, among other factors.

According to DARPA, aircraft flying at Mach 20 encounter temperatures above 3,500 degrees F, which are hot enough to melt steel. The HTV-2 craft sustained that speed for three minutes before eventually succumbing to abrupt roll movements and descending into the ocean.

Also on DARPA’s list of technical priorities is aerodynamics, an area in which the agency seeks to explore the possibility of adding vertical or horizontal stabilizers to a hypersonic craft for the sake of directional control. The last three areas of focus include navigation and control, instrumentation and propulsion.

DARPA is slated to hold a Proposers’ Day on August 14 where it will lay out the needs of each specific research area in depth to companies trying to vie for the approximately $40 million in prize money, along with $30 million in additional contracts, that is up for grabs for companies that can come up with hypersonic technology of interest to the agency.

The program is part of DARPA’s effort to develop a full-fledged hypersonic X-plane and test fly it by 2016.


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