DARPA’s Vulcan Engine Aims for Mach 6+

DARPA’s Hypersonic Vulcan Engine Meld
Defense Industry Daily

It might not be a Vulcan mind-meld, but it’s pretty close. The Department of Defense’s technology brain trust, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has given 4 contractors the go-ahead to develop the advanced Vulcan combination engine system for hypersonic flight. The 8-month first phase features awards to: Alliant TechSystems, General Electric, Rolls Royce, and United Technologies.


DARPA Looks at Ways to Better Track Debris, Protect Assets

Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.
Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.

The DARPA Strategic Plan reports on efforts by the defense agency to improve the tracking of space debris and other objects as well as develop radiation hardened integrated circuits:

The Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) program will enhance our space situational awareness by demonstrating rapid, uncued search, detection, and tracking of faint, deep-space objects. SST is using curved focal plane array technology to develop a large-aperture optical telescope with very wide field of view to detect and track new and unidentified objects that suddenly appear with unknown purpose or intent, such as small, potentially hazardous debris objects and future generations of small satellites.


DARPA Develops Orbital Refueling, Upgrades for Satellites

DARPA’s Strategic Plan has a section about the agency’s work on the orbital refueling and upgrades of satellites:

Propellant on-board today’s spacecraft is limited to the amount carried at launch. This reduces the useful payload on orbit because significant fractions of launch mass are to provide a lifetime of on-orbit fuel. Limited fuel also constrains on-orbit maneuvering, reducing the ability to relocate spacecraft in response to new needs or threats. In short, the inability to refuel spacecraft limits their lifetime.

DARPA’s Orbital Express program showed how on-orbit satellite operations could fundamentally change by demonstrating the ability to refuel satellites and replace their electronics on-orbit, offering a way to dramatically improve the life span, maneuverability, and self-protection of orbiting satellites. Over 135 days, two satellites, NextSat and ASTRO, performed increasingly complex tasks, demonstrating autonomous rendezvous from up to 200 kilometers, as well as the ability to conduct autonomous proximity operations including refueling, electronics replacement, and circumnavigation.

DARPA Plans Two Flight Tests of Hypersonic Falcon Vehicle

Falcon hypersonic technology vehicle (HTV)
Falcon hypersonic technology vehicle (HTV)

DARPA’s Strategic Plan includes the following update on the agency’s Falcon hypersonic program:

The Falcon program has been working to vastly improve the U.S. capability to promptly reach other points on the globe. A major goal of the program is to flight-test key hypersonic cruise vehicle technologies in a realistic flight environment.

Recently DARPA conducted both low- and high-speed wind tunnel tests that validate the stability and control of the hypersonic technology vehicle (HTV) across the flight regime. Two HTV test flights are planned from Vandenberg Air Force Base to Kwajalein Atoll to test thermal and aerodynamic control systems. One flight will follow a fairly direct trajectory, while the second “buttonhook” trajectory will demonstrate significant cross-range maneuver capability.

DARPA Plans Modular, Virtual Spacecraft System

The System F6 space architecture replaces the traditional monolithic spacecraft with a wireless “virtual spacecraft” operating as a cluster of modules
The System F6 space architecture replaces the traditional monolithic spacecraft with a wireless “virtual spacecraft” operating as a cluster of modules

DARPA is looking at a radical shift in how to build spacecraft. An excerpt from the agency’s Strategic Plan 09 document:

The System F6 program takes a dramatically new approach towards designing, building, launching, and operating larger spacecraft. This program will develop capabilities to decompose a monolithic satellite into an autonomous cluster of individual and physically disconnected modules carrying different payload and subsystem elements. Linked together in a wireless network, this collection of modules creates a “virtual spacecraft.” Satellite systems could be repaired or upgraded on demand by placing a new, wirelessly connected module into the cluster. The systems would be robust against attack because the components are physically separated. Using a multiple launch approach, this concept also promises reduced risk from launch failures.

Tests Conducted on DARPA Ram/Scramjet FaCET Hypersonic Engine

A bit more news on DARPA’s work on hypersonics, courtesy of Arnold Air Force Base’s Public Affairs Officer Philip Lorenz III. He wrote the following story about a recent test done at the base on DARPA’s Falcon Combined Cycle Engine Test (FaCET) article:

Officials at the U.S. Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) are heralding a successful first freejet test on a dual mode, combined ram/scramjet hypersonic engine in the center’s Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit (APTU), a major milestone on two fronts.