Orbital ATK to develop hypersonic propulsion for aircraft, UAVs, and missiles

Aviation propulsion experts at Orbital ATK Inc. in Elkton, Md., are helping U.S. government researchers develop a full-scale reusable propulsion system for future hypersonic aircraft and missiles that can fly at least five times the speed of sound.

1710maeuv Hypersonic

ARLINGTON, Va. — Aviation propulsion experts at Orbital ATK Inc. in Elkton, Md., are helping U.S. government researchers develop a full-scale reusable propulsion system for future hypersonic aircraft and missiles that can fly at least five times the speed of sound.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., have announced a $21.4 million contract to ATK for the Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program. This project seeks to develop and ground-demonstrate a full-scale, reusable turbine-based combined-cycle (TBCC) propulsion system for future hypersonic aircraft. TBCC combines a turbine engine for low-speed operations with a ramjet/scramjet for high-speed operations via a common inlet and nozzle.

Orbital ATK is developing hypersonic propulsion for future generations of U.S. manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as missiles.

Reliable hypersonic propulsion technology will be necessary for future generations of high-speed manned and unmanned military aircraft, as well as for next-generation anti-ship missiles and other smart munitions, DARPA officials say. Hypersonic propulsion may enable military aircraft and missiles to fly from long ranges with short response times compared to current military systems.

Developing hypersonic aircraft and missile propulsion confronts engineers with two difficult challenges. First, the top speed of traditional jet-turbine engines maxes out at roughly Mach 2.5. Second, hypersonic engines such as scramjets cannot provide effective thrust at speeds much below Mach 3.5.

The AFRE program seeks to combine the best commercially available technologies in jet turbine engines and ramjet/scramjet technologies.

"We're envisioning an inventive hybrid system that would combine and improve upon the best off-the-shelf turbine and ramjet/scramjet technologies," says Christopher Clay, the DARPA AFRE program manager. "With recent advances in manufacturing methods, modeling, and other disciplines, we believe this potentially ground-breaking achievement may finally be within reach."

The first phase of the AFRE program calls for Orbital ATK to conduct system design, subscale and large-scale component development, and ground demonstration.

For more information visit Orbital ATK online at www.orbitalatk.com.

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