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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ISRO Commissions Advanced Hypersonic Wind Tunnel

Hypersonic wind tunnel (Credit: ISRO)

SATISH DHAWAN, India (ISRO PR) — In the quest to reduce the cost of access to space and to extend the frontiers of space exploration, ISRO has ventured into Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) and Re-entry missions, Air-breathing propulsion technology demonstration and Interplanetary missions. These missions encounter design criticalities at Hypersonic Mach number regime and need rigorous aero-thermodynamic characterisation at these Mach numbers.

In order to cater to the above need, Industrial type Hypersonic Wind Tunnel and Shock Tunnel have been established at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).


The Year in Suborbital Launches

The New Shepard capsule separates from its booster as the abort motor fires. (Credit: Blue Origin)
The New Shepard capsule separates from its booster as the abort motor fires. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Although orbital launch vehicles get all the glory (and infamy when they fail), 2016 was also a busy year for the far less glamorous suborbital launch sector. There were 19 suborbital launches at various sites around the world, and two more sounding rocket launches of note where the payload didn’t go above 100 km.

Trump’s Tax Plan Likely to Limit Options in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

During an appearance in Florida one week before the election, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence promised that he and Donald Trump would reinvigorate the nation’s space program.

However, the incoming administration’s larger economic priorities are likely to limit its options for any large-scale space exploration efforts.

President elect Trump’s biggest priority is a massive tax cut that would primarily favor corporations and upper income Americans. It would also lower taxes slightly for many middle class families while actually raising taxes for some of them. CBS News has a full analysis. Some of the highlights:

Right now, a single parent with $75,000 in income and two children can claim a head of household deduction of $9,300, plus three personal exemptions. Those steps would reduce the household’s taxable income by $21,450, to $53,550.

Trump Promises Revamped Civil & Military Space Policy, Downgraded Earth Science Program

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Two senior policy advisers to Donald Trump, Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro, published op-eds in SpaceNews prior to the election outlining the president elect’s planned civil and military space policies.

Civil Space Policy

The highlights on the civil side include:

“Public-private partnerships should be the foundation of our space efforts. Such partnerships offer not only the benefit of reduced costs, but the benefit of partners capable of thinking outside of bureaucratic structures and regulations.”

OK, that seems to have pretty broad acceptance and is along the lines of what’s already being done.

Advisers Outline Trump’s Military Space Policy

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump policy advisers Robert Walker and Peter Navarro have returned to the pages of SpaceNews with a second op-ed piece the Republican presidential candidate’s military space policy.

They start out rather bizarrely by citing the weakness of the Obama-Clinton economy, advancing the startling proposition that economic policy is within the purview of a secretary of state who left the administration in early 2013. They then invoke Ronald Reagan and promise that Trump will bring peace through strength by countering aggressive moves by Russia and China.

Trump administration will simultaneously strengthen our economy and manufacturing base while significantly expanding our civilian and military space budgets. Trump understands, as Reagan did before him, that without a strong economy, there can be no strong space program. It is not too bold to assert the maintenance of our technological and strategic superiority in space is vital not just to national security but to our very survival….

While America’s space-based capabilities have made our military the world’s most powerful and effective, an over-reliance on our satellite network to provide situational awareness on the battlefield is now making America highly vulnerable to attack. Chinese and Russian strategists understand this better than our own government. That’s why they are now aggressively targeting our satellite networks – both military and civilian as the very concept of warfare broadens.

Against this emerging strategic chessboard, Donald Trump’s priorities for our military space program are clear: We must reduce our current vulnerabilities and assure that our military commands have the space tools they need for their missions. We must also reduce the cost of space access and create new generations of satellites to deal with emerging threats….

A Trump administration will also lead the way on emerging technologies that have the potential to revolutionize warfare.  For example, both China and Russia are aggressively moving forward with a range of hypersonic weapons that are very difficult to defend against with traditional air-defense interceptors.  A Trump administration will increase the coordination between DARPA, NASA, and the private sector to ensure the U.S. remains well ahead of the technology curve.

Read the full story.


Orbital ATK Successfully Tests Hypersonic Engine Combustor Produced Through Additive Manufacturing

orbital_ATK_logoDULLES, Va., January 18, 2016 (Orbital ATK PR) — Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, announced today that it has successfully tested a 3D-printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA Langley Research Center. The combustor, produced through an additive manufacturing process known as powder bed fusion (PBF), was subjected to a variety of high-temperature hypersonic flight conditions over the course of 20 days, including one of the longest duration propulsion wind tunnel tests ever recorded for a unit of this kind. Analysis confirms the unit met or exceeded all of the test requirements.


Stephen Hawking to Help Name Virgin Galactic’s Second SpaceShipTwo

Stephen Hawking (Credit: NASA)
Stephen Hawking (Credit: NASA)

UPDATE: Looks as if the unveiling will be on Friday, Feb. 19, here in Mojave.

Stephen Hawking will name the second SpaceShipTwo vehicle when it is rolled out of its hangar next month in Mojave, Calif.

Sir Richard has invited the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking to name the new plane at the unveiling. He has already offered the scientist Virgin Galactic’s only free ticket into space – which Professor Hawking has accepted, provided his health allows it.

“Obviously, we had a year’s delay after the accident and it’s tremendous that Stephen Hawking has agreed to come and name the new spaceship,” Sir Richard said.

“He has made it very clear that he thinks mankind and womankind need to work very hard to try to colonise other planets and that space is very important for people back here on Earth,” he said.

Hawking has a free ticket on SpaceShipTwo which now costs a cool $250,000 (up from $20o,000 in 2013). The PR benefits of having the world-famous physicist involved in the roll out ceremony is probably well worth the cost. And it’s the least Hawking can do for such a generous gift.


Branson: Virgin Galactic Leading the Way in Clean Spaceflight

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Richard Branson is once again talking up how clean his space program is despite all objective evidence to the contrary.

“We are doing everything we can to try to work towards turning the world into a place that’s run by clean energy, not dirty energy. We’ve managed to reduce the amount of energy, of carbon output, to get somebody into space … to less than a round-trip, economy class, from London to New York,” he said.

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Launches New Hypersonic Branch

X-51 Waverider
X-51 Waverider

by Deidre Ortiz
Arnold Engineering Development Complex Public Affairs

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN., July 3, 2014 — The relationship between the Air Force Research Laboratory and Arnold Engineering Development Complex’s hypervelocity capabilities is paying dividends and leading to a more in-depth and scientifically broader collaboration.

In light of the success of several joint projects, AFRL leadership has decided to extend the organization’s partnership with AEDC by establishing a new hypersonic research branch, to be known as the High Speed Experimentation Branch, here.


Video: Branson Predicts New York to Tokyo in Under an Hour

Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson was on CNBC’s Squawk Box the other day talking up his plans to follow up Virgin Galactic’s suborbital space tourism flights with hypersonic point-to-point transcontinental commercial passenger service.

X-51 WaveRider Team Wins AIAA Foundation Award for Excellence

X-51 Waverider
X-51A WaveRider

RESTON, VA (AIAA PR)  – The X-51A WaveRider team has won the 2014 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Foundation’s Award for Excellence. The team will receive the award on April 30 at the AIAA Spotlight Awards Gala at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, in Washington, D.C.

The team is being honored “for the demonstration of the feasibility of sustained air breathing hypersonic flight by achieving a 300 second flight at Mach 5.”


Air Force Research Lab to Evaluate Reaction Engines’ SABRE Engine

Skylon with the SABRE engine. (Credit: Reaction Engines)
Skylon with the SABRE engine. (Credit: Reaction Engines)

LONDON (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines Ltd is pleased to announce that it has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (‘CRADA’) with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aerospace Systems Directorate (AFRL/RQ).


XS-1: A Closer Look at the Government’s Latest — and Sanest? — Attempt to Reduce Launch Costs

Artist's conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)
Artist’s conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)

In the era of bell bottoms and Richard Nixon, there was the space shuttle.

When Ronald Reagan ruled the roost, all hope rested in the National Aerospace Plane.

During the Bill Clinton era, there were the X-33 and Venture Star.

In Barack Obama’s first term, the Air Force pursued its Reusable Booster System (RBS).

Five programs. One objective: to radically reduce the cost to orbit. More than $14 billion spent on development. And the result? A super expensive shuttle program. Four vehicles that never flew. And access to space just kept getting more expensive.

Undaunted by these previous failures, the brilliant engineers and scientists at DARPA are once again giving it  the old college try. And this time around, they believe the technology has finally caught up with the ambition of making flying into orbit a daily occurrence.


Lockheed Plans “Affordable” Hypersonic Mach 6 Aircraft

Artist's conception of SR-72. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)
Artist’s conception of SR-72. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Aviation Week has quite the scoop on Lockheed Martin’s plans for a successor to the legendary SR-71:

After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets.