DARPA wants radical propulsion system capable of Mach/hypersonic speeds

Reusable engine would need to operate at low and incredibly high speeds

Credit: DARPA

Fast, faster, fastest might be an accurate description of the type of propulsion system researchers from DARPA are looking to build in the next few years.

The radical research agency will next month detail what it calls the Advanced Full Range Engine which, in a nutshell, is a dual personality propulsion system that combines a turbine engine for low speed operations with a ramjet/scramjet for high speed, supersonic operations.

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DARPA wrote ‘in the decades-long quest to develop reusable aircraft that can reach hypersonic speeds—Mach 5 (approximately 3,300 miles per hour/5,300 kilometers per hour) and above—engineers have grappled with two intertwined, seemingly intractable challenges: The top speed of traditional jet-turbine engines maxes out at roughly Mach 2.5, while hypersonic engines such as scramjets cannot provide effective thrust at speeds much below Mach 3.5. This gap in capability means that any air-breathing hypersonic vehicles developed today would use disposable rockets for one-time boosts up to operating speed, limiting the vehicles’ usefulness.”

“Instead of designing an entirely new kind of engine, we’re envisioning an inventive hybrid system that would combine and improve upon the best of off-the-shelf turbine and ramjet/scramjet technologies,” said Christopher Clay, DARPA program manager in a statement. “This won’t be the first time that ambitious engineers will attempt to combine turbine and ramjet technologies. But with recent advances in manufacturing methods, modeling, and other disciplines, we believe this potentially groundbreaking achievement may finally be within reach.”

The AFRE program will be conducted in two phases. Phase I will include AFRE system design and subscale and large scale component development and ground demonstration. Phase II is anticipated to conduct a large-scale, integrated test series or freejet test of the integrated low speed and high speed thrust, DARPA stated.

For more information on the AFRE Proposers Day which will be held July 13, go here.

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