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DARPA pursues materials, architecture to cool hypersonic vehicles

21 December 2018
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DARPA’s MACH programme will pursue materials and designs for cooling the hot leading edges of hypersonic vehicles travelling at speeds of Mach 5 and beyond. Source: DARPA

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking new materials and designs to address the technical challenge of mitigating aerothermal effects on hypersonic vehicles as they travel at speeds of Mach 5 and above.

To address the challenge DARPA has initiated the Materials, Architectures, and Characterization for Hypersonics (MACH) programme. The programme seeks to develop and demonstrate new design and material solutions for sharp, shape-stable, high heat flux capable leading edge systems for hypersonic vehicles travelling more than five times the speed of sound.

DARPA is seeking expertise in thermal engineering and design, advanced computational materials development, architected materials design, fabrication and testing (including net shape fabrication of high temperature metals, ceramics, and their composites), hypersonic leading-edge design and performance, and advanced thermal protection systems. DARPA has specified that it does not want research "that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice".

The MACH programme will comprise two technical areas. The first area aims to develop and mature a fully integrated passive thermal management system to cool leading edges based on scalable net-shape manufacturing and advanced thermal design. The second technical area will focus on next-generation hypersonic materials research, applying modern high-fidelity computation capabilities to develop new passive and active thermal management concepts, coatings, and materials for future cooled hypersonic leading edge applications.

Bill Carter, Program Manager in DARPA's Defense Sciences Office (DSO), said, "For decades people have studied cooling the hot leading edges of hypersonic vehicles but haven't been able to demonstrate practical concepts in flight.

"The key is developing scalable materials architectures that enable mass transport to spread and reject heat. In recent years we've seen advances in thermal engineering and manufacturing that could enable the design and fabrication of very complex architectures not possible in the past. If successful, we could see a breakthrough in mitigating aerothermal effects at the leading edge that would enhance hypersonic performance," he added.

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