Flight of US hypersonic vehicle powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Scramjet engine – 3DPrint.com
We recently learned that the United States had tested a hypersonic weapon in mid-March. At the time, Pentagon officials decided to keep it a secret to avoid further tensions with Moscow amid an escalating war in Ukraine and following a recent Russian attack on an arms depot with a hypersonic missile. As a result, announcements were delayed until yesterday when we learned that the United States’ Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon (HAWC) concept had been successfully tested in a joint effort between Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force.
Launched from a B52 bomber for 327 seconds, the hypersonic cruise missile produced by Lockheed Martin reached heights over 65,000 feet and was powered by an advanced Aerojet Rocketdyne (NYSE: AJRD) scramjet engine, which is built using advanced technologies such as additive manufacturing (AM).
Focused on the development and demonstration of essential technologies to enable an efficient and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile system, the HAWC program builds on pioneering scramjet projects. Some examples include work on the 1990s Rockwell X-30 national aerospace plane, as well as unmanned flights of NASA’s X-43 small vehicles and the US Air Force’s X-51 Waverider. This historic new flight, which reached speeds in excess of Mach 5, deepens the understanding of operations in the high-speed flight regime and opens the door to an industry that develops very high-speed weaponry with new processes and techniques, including 3D printing.
Eileen P. Drake, CEO and President of Aerojet Rocketdyne, said the pioneering company is well positioned to support the nation’s hypersonic development and production.
“By applying decades of cutting-edge research and development, along with engineering know-how and innovative manufacturing and materials, our products optimize performance while dramatically reducing development time and cost.”
A globally recognized leader in aerospace and defense, Aerojet uses additive manufacturing in many of its businesses. For example, the company explained that thanks to 3D printing, it uses 95% fewer parts in its scramjets than for the historic scramjet engine that powered the US Air Force’s X-51A Waverider to maintain speed hypersonic.
“Aerojet Rocketdyne continued to improve the aerothermal performance, affordability, scalability and rapid manufacturing of scramjet engines to meet the emerging needs of hypersonic missile and aircraft applications,” the company said.
In addition to innovative scramjets, Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactures a wide range of products to support hypersonics, including solid rocket motor thrusters, warheads and missile defense technologies. Like most of its major aerospace competitors, Aerojet has increasingly relied on AM to build parts for its rocket, hypersonic and electric propulsion systems for space, defense, civil and commercial applications.
Aerojet’s AM team relies on GE Concept Laser and EOS machines for their selective laser melting requirements and superalloys, primarily nickel-based, for 3D printed engine parts. For the past decade, he has been actively working on the development of AM platforms to build components that can reliably withstand the extreme operating environment of an engine, whether for space travel or terrestrial travel.
Following long-term technology collaborations with numerous government agencies and private customers, Aerojet has continued its impressive momentum in 3D printing. Above all, it seems to grasp the future potential of manufacturing lightweight, complex geometries and high-value systems, especially as the US defense unit expands further using AM technology for hypersonic propulsion.
As the second successful flight in DARPA’s HAWC program, the hypersonic weapon concept missile demonstrator set a hypersonic flight record under the power of a scramjet. Last September, a different vehicle configuration from another contractor team led by Raytheon Technologies also achieved hypersonic flight.
“This Lockheed Martin HAWC flight test successfully demonstrated a second design that will allow our fighters to competitively select the right capabilities to dominate the battlefield,” said Andrew “Tippy” Knoedler, HAWC program manager at DARPA Office of Tactical Technology. “These accomplishments increase the level of technical maturity for HAWC’s transition to a check-in service program.”
Air-breathing vehicles use air captured from the atmosphere to achieve sustained propulsion, DARPA explains. The speed and maneuverability of these hypersonic cruise missiles allow them to both evade defenses and strike quickly, while their kinetic energy can effectively destroy targets even without high explosives.
“We are still analyzing flight test data, but we are confident that we will provide the US Air Force and Navy with excellent options to diversify the technology available for their future missions,” Knoedler said.
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