For more than a decade Astrox worked in semi-obscurity on several major hypersonic programmes, including the NASA X-43A scramjet and the Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) Blackswift
Astrox is featured prominently in “Technology Horizons”, a 20-year roadmap for science and technology advances published by Werner Dahm, chief scientist of the US Air Force on July, 2010.
Astrox has developed what Mark Lewis calls a “mid-fidelity” analytical tool to automatically show likely configurations and performance based on criteria such as inlet shaping and energy sources for thrust. Each of the designs comes from a 2007 study commissioned by Lewis for Astrox to analyse new options for a follow-on to the X-51A.
In the Astrox designs, the rectangular inlet shaping is replaced by a circular, inward-turning inlet. This funnel-shaped flowpath, which also was used by the cancelled Blackswift concept, is considered by some to be the next evolution in hypersonic design technology. Lewis says: “It turns out there’s a lot of advantages to going to a round inlet.” In a second major departure, Astrox’s design concepts all depend upon on vertical take-off.
Lewis compared the historical argument between vertical take-off and horizontal take-off for a reusable launch vehicle to a “religious dispute”, for which he considers himself an agnostic. Kothari, however, favours the vertical take-off method. “Horizontal take-off is the wrong way,” he says. He blames a requirement for making Blackswift take off from a runway for the project’s demise.
There is also interesting research focused on advanced UAVs and mind machine interfaces. The Air Force has $28 billion for research and development.