Traditionally, hypersonic speed is considered to start at over five times the speed of sound, and only experimental airplanes reached it every now and then. It is at Mach 5 that the plane’s surface begins experiencing high heat loads, hence the need for planes to be made of materials capable of withstanding the conditions.
Currently, there are a few solutions for the problem, but as research progresses, it becomes obvious that new materials are needed.
To jolt the research for heat-resistant materials, especially for the ones that will cover the leading edges of the airplanes, DARPA announced this week the creation of the Materials Architectures and Characterization for Hypersonics (MACH) program.
The program will be divided into two technical areas. The first will seek to create and mature fully integrated passive thermal management systems needed to cool the leading edges, while the second will aim to actually produce new coatings and materials.
“For decades people have studied cooling the hot leading edges of hypersonic vehicles but haven’t been able to demonstrate practical concepts in flight,” said in a statement Bill Carter, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office.
“In recent years we’ve seen advances in thermal engineering and manufacturing that could enable the design and fabrication of very complex architectures not possible in the past. If successful, we could see a breakthrough in mitigating aerothermal effects at the leading edge that would enhance hypersonic performance.”
More details on the program will be made public by DARPA in January.