Hypersonic vehicles can be an airplane, missile, or spacecraft that travel through the atmosphere at extremely high speeds. These vehicles create intense friction with the surrounding air, as they fly at speeds above Mach 5 which is five times faster than the speed of sound.
It is technically challenging to develop structure that can withstand furnace-like temperature at such incredible high speed, especially for leading edges that bear the maximum impact of the heat.
To address the thermal challenge, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has recently initiated program called ‘Materials, Architectures, and Characterization for Hypersonics’ or MACH. As reported in Space Daily, the program will be focused on developing and demonstrating novel architecture and material solutions for shape-stable, sharp, and low-temperature leading edges for hypersonic vehicles.
According to Bill Carter, program manager in Defense Sciences Office at DARPA, for several years, researchers have been studying about cooling the hot leading edges of hypersonic vehicles, but none were able to demonstrate the practical concepts in hypersonic flight. Key solution is to create scalable materials architectures that allow mass transport to spread and avoid heat, he added.
In the recent times, there has been significant advances in thermal engineering and manufacturing which will enable designing and manufacturing of relatively complex architectures not possible earlier. If successful, it could be a major breakthrough in preventing aero-thermal effects at the leading edge that would improve the performance of hypersonic flight, Carter said.
The MACH program will focus on two technical areas. Firstly, the engineers aim to design and develop fully integrated passive thermal management system for cooling of leading edge based on advanced thermal design and scalable shape-stable fabrication.
In the second technical area, researchers will look for next-generation hypersonic materials, exerting advanced high-fidelity computational capabilities. As reported, it will enable the development of new passive as well as active thermal management concepts, materials, and coatings for future hypersonic application of cooled leading edge.
Both the technical areas are expected to be presented at the Broad Agency Announcement solicitation around mid-January next year.
The MACH program is now looking for expertise in thermal engineering and design, architected materials design, hypersonic leading-edge design and performance, advanced computational materials, fabrication and testing, and advanced thermal protection systems.