NASA seed funds SR 72 hypersonic drones as other countries race for hypersonic missiles

NASA funded a parametric design study to establish the viability of a Turbine Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) Propulsion system consisting of integrating several combinations of near-term turbine engine solutions and a very low Mach ignition Dual Mode RamJet (DMRJ) in the SR-72 vehicle concept.

The SR72 drone would fly at speeds of Mach 6.0, or 4,500 mph. That’s almost double the speed of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which made its first flight 50 years ago.

Lockheed Martin is working with Aerojet Rocketdyne to find a way to integrate a turbine engine, which would get the plane up to Mach 3, with a supersonic ramjet engine, or scramjet, to push it to Mach 6.

Lockheed believes it can develop its SR-72 by 2030.

The $892,292 contract funds a design study to determine the viability of a TBCC propulsion system by combining one of several current turbine engines, with a very low Mach ignition Dual Mode Ramjet (DMRJ). NASA previously funded a Lockheed Martin study that found speeds up to Mach 7 could be achieved with a dual-mode engine combining turbine and ramjet technologies. The problem with hypersonic propulsion has always been the gap between the highest speed capabilities of a turbojet, from around Mach 2.2 to the lowest speed of a ramjet at Mach 4. Typical turbine engines cannot achieve high enough speeds for a ramjet to take over and continue accelerating. The NASA-Lockheed study is looking at the possibility of a higher-speed turbine engine or a ramjet that can function in a turbine engine’s slower flight envelope; the DARPA HTV-3X had demonstrated a low-speed ramjet that could operate below Mach 3. Existing turbofan engines powering jet fighters and other experimental designs are being considered for modification. If the study is successful, NASA will fund a demonstrator to test the DMRJ in a flight research vehicle

China hypersonic missile test

China conducted the third flight test of a new hypersonic missile this week as part of its strategic nuclear program and efforts to develop delivery vehicles capable of defeating U.S. countermeasures, defense officials said.

The flight test of the developmental Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle was monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies Tuesday during a flight test in western China.

The latest flight test followed earlier tests of the Wu-14 on Jan. 9 and Aug. 7. The three tests indicate that China’s development of a strike vehicle capable of traveling up to eight times the speed of sound is a high-priority element in China’s large-scale military buildup.

China plans to deploy its high-speed glide vehicle by 2020 and a scramjet powered hypersonic vehicle by 2025.

Russia, India, Australia and many other countries are working towards hypersonic missiles.

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