Orbital ATK Receives $21 Million Hypersonic Propulsion Contract from DARPA

DARPA’s new Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program seeks to develop and demonstrate a new aircraft propulsion system that could operate at subsonic through hypersonic speeds and lay the framework for routine, reusable hypersonic flight. (Credit: DARPA)

DARPA has awarded a contract worth $21.4 million to Orbital ATK for a research project under the Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program. The defense agency is allocating $1 million in R&D funds for the program in fiscal year 2017, which ends on Sept. 30.

“AFRE seeks to develop and demonstrate a new aircraft propulsion system that could operate over the full range of speeds required from low-speed takeoff through hypersonic flight,” DARPA said in a press release announcing the program.

Hypersonic speeds are defined as Mach 5 (approximately 3,300 miles per hour/5,300 kilometers per hour) and above.

“Instead of designing an entirely new kind of engine, we’re envisioning an inventive hybrid system that would combine and improve upon the best of off-the-shelf turbine and ramjet/scramjet technologies,” said Christopher Clay, DARPA program manager. “This won’t be the first time that ambitious engineers will attempt to combine turbine and ramjet technologies. But with recent advances in manufacturing methods, modeling, and other disciplines, we believe this potentially groundbreaking achievement may finally be within reach.”

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  • windbourne

    Surprised this is going to OATK, and not somebody like GE, P/W, or even rocketdyne.

    Does OATK have experience with engines?

  • ReusablesForever

    What’s new here?? This concept has been around for a zillion years. Materials? Structures? If the thing is operating in ram/scram mode, it’s carrying around a lot of dead weight in subsonic engine stuff and in subsonic mode the reverse is true. Then again, the air inlet system and its mechanisms have to operate in a truly rotten environment for both ascent and entry. And then you’ll have to supply rockets and the oxygen for the remaining 80% of the deltaV needed to get to orbit.

  • badcompanyman

    Because after decades of fiddling around with scram/ramjets no one has gotten one to fly on a regular basis. Not even the military which loves things that go fast and has money to burn.

  • patb2009

    The trick here is coming up with a method to swap the air paths.
    Len Cormier was messing around with something like this but, the transition between modes was unsettling.

  • publiusr

    The Northrop buy out will help…

  • patb2009

    the idea is the thrust is high enough, to still achieve the mission goals. It’s a hard problem though. It’s definitely DARPA hard.

  • patb2009

    O-ATK includes GASL the scramjet group.