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DARPA-funded team proposes "sweating" hypersonic missiles to beat heat
The RTX Technology Research Center has tested a novel method of helping hypersonic vehicles withstand extreme heat. At hypersonic speeds, missiles and other vehicles get so hot their leading edges begin to deform A method called transpiration cooling uses artificial pores to deliver a cooling liquid to the surface
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DARPA-funded team proposes "sweating" hypersonic missiles to beat heat
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Oct 18, 2023

In a significant development to overcome the challenges posed by hypersonic missiles, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has turned to an unusual but effective solution: making the missile "sweat." Researchers at the RTX Technology Research Center, under the guidance of John Sharon, are developing a cooling mechanism that leverages transpiration cooling channels in the tip of the missile.

Hypersonic missiles can travel faster than a mile per second, but this sheer velocity exposes the missile's tip to extreme heat, causing the material to round and melt. This not only affects the missile's structure but also increases its drag, affecting its speed and range.

"You go from something sharp to something kind of rounded," said Sharon. "And when you go from sharp to rounded, you increase your drag, and you end up slowing the vehicle down, which impacts how fast and far we can fly."

Seeking to address this challenge, DARPA asked for innovative solutions and subsequently awarded a contract to the RTX Technology Research Center to further develop its concept under the MACH program. The team is working alongside other academic and industry partners.

John Sharon and his researchers have designed a method inspired by natural transpiration processes, similar to how humans and trees cool themselves. The tip of the missile is embedded with a compound that heats up to generate vapor. This vapor is then pushed through thousands of micro-channels, each smaller than a human hair, to dissipate the heat.

The research is in the prototype stage and currently involves a wedge-shaped, heat-resistant metal test article, slightly larger than a credit card. The team collaborated with Collins Aerospace, an RTX business, to make the cooling channels as minute and efficient as possible using micromachining-a method involving lasers to create intricate parts.

Initial tests used a burner rig to simulate the high temperatures the missile would encounter. Describing the rig, Sharon said, "It's essentially a big creme brulee torch." Subsequent testing involved a facility that uses an electrical arc to heat and expand gases, mimicking the rapid changes in temperature and speed of hypersonic flight.

The preliminary results are promising, but Sharon notes that more research is needed to refine the technique, particularly in making the channels even smaller. There are also questions about how well the findings on a small-scale test article can be scaled up to a full-sized hypersonic vehicle.

Besides its potential application in hypersonic missiles, the research may have broader implications for other RTX products, including the cooling of aircraft engine turbine blades.

"When you're flying five-plus times the speed of sound, the temperature can rise very quickly-in a fraction of a second," said Sharon. "The folks on the team involved with modeling did an awesome job estimating how long the test article would survive."

The team is eager to continue its research, focusing on the technical challenges that remain. While the cooling concept is not yet ready for full-scale application, it represents a crucial step forward in addressing the inherent difficulties of hypersonic flight.

ai.spacewar.com analysis

Relevance Ratings:

1. Space and Defense Industry Analyst: 9/10
2. Stock and Finance Market Analyst: 7/10
3. Government Policy Analyst: 8/10

Analyst Summary:

The article highlights DARPA's initiative to improve hypersonic missiles through a novel cooling system developed by the RTX Technology Research Center. The cooling method, inspired by natural transpiration processes, employs micro-channels to dissipate the heat generated at the missile's tip, which otherwise results in structural issues and increased drag.

Implications for Sectors:

Space and Defense Industry:

The innovation in hypersonic technology aligns with the broader trend of modernizing military assets and could open new dimensions in defense capabilities. Its potential for other applications like aircraft engine cooling makes it a multifaceted research outcome.

Stock and Finance Market:

The development could drive investment into companies specializing in hypersonic technology and advanced manufacturing methods like micromachining. Firms involved, such as RTX and Collins Aerospace, could see a positive impact on stock valuations.

Government Policy:

Given the strategic advantages of hypersonic missiles, the research could influence national defense policies and budgets, potentially becoming a cornerstone for future military technology investments.

Historical Context:

Over the past 25 years, the defense industry has seen a significant push toward advancing hypersonic technologies, mainly driven by the ballistic missile capabilities of nations like Russia and China. In the '90s, the focus was more on stealth technologies, but with anti-stealth countermeasures becoming more sophisticated, the industry has shifted focus towards speed and agility, which makes the development underlined in the article pertinent.

Correlations, Discrepancies, and Similarities:

The transpiration cooling method is an innovative approach within the industry's larger push for hypersonic technology. However, the move towards bio-mimicry and natural inspiration (such as transpiration) is relatively rare in a sector dominated by mechanical solutions, signifying a possibly transformative trend in R and D approaches.

Five Investigative Questions:

1. How would the integration of transpiration cooling systems alter the cost-per-unit of hypersonic missiles?

2. What are the potential cybersecurity risks involved in adopting such an advanced cooling mechanism, especially considering its reliance on compound-based vapor generation?

3. Could this technology provide a significant enough advantage to necessitate a re-evaluation of existing defense treaties and agreements on hypersonic weapons?

4. What other applications could potentially benefit from transpiration cooling technology, within and outside the aerospace and defense industry?

5. Are there geopolitical implications in the exportation of such advanced hypersonic missile technology, and how might it affect international arms control measures?

By synthesizing these different perspectives, analysts can gain a comprehensive understanding of the far-reaching implications that this development in hypersonic missile technology may have across multiple sectors.

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