Hypersonic Technology Will Reach Anywhere on the Planet in an Hour

Hypersonic Technology Will Reach Anywhere on the Planet in an Hour

By Dialogo
August 07, 2012

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), charged with the development of new military technology, recently announced the construction by 2016 of an extreme hypersonic plane, capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 20 (20 times the speed of sound, or 21,000 km/h). That speed would be sufficient to travel anywhere on the planet in slightly less than an hour.

Up to now, DARPA has carried out two test flights of prototypes for the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV2). The most recent attempt was on Aug. 11, 2011, when the Falcon 2 reached Mach 20, but was only able to remain in the air for nine minutes.

At Mach 20, the thermal protection systems and the materials used to cover the aircraft are absolutely essential, since the surface of any vehicle traveling in the earth’s atmosphere at 21,000 km/h reaches 2,000 degrees Celsius, hot enough to melt steel.

The extreme speeds allow only limited control in handling the vehicle. For that reason, engineers have to analyze the technology in a completely different way, since they need to consider aerodynamic, thermal, and navigational aspects, as well as those related to control of the plane. This aircraft, part of the latest generation of Stealths, will begin its flights from a mother aircraft, similar to the way that the space shuttles were launched.

With the construction of this hypersonic vehicle, the U.S. Defense Department, in a joint effort with DARPA and the U.S. Air Force, is trying to develop technology capable of responding to threats originating anywhere on the planet at speeds of Mach 20 or higher. A projectile flying through the atmosphere could be more difficult to intercept than one launched from space by a rocket, the agency explained.

In order to promote an exchange of information about previous discoveries in this technology, DARPA will dedicate Aug. 14 to receiving proposals from agencies that may have knowledge in this area, therefore defining the technical areas where greater technological research is required, in order to subsequently integrate them into this new project.

“By broadening the scope of research and engaging a larger community in our efforts, we have the opportunity to usher in a new area of flight more rapidly and, in doing so, develop a new national security capability far beyond previous initiatives,” commented U.S. Air Force Major Christopher Schultz, a DARPA program manager.