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The defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced over the weekend that they’re planning to build and test an experimental hypersonic jet by 2016.It’s difficult to overstate how huge this could be.
DARPA wants to make a jet that can hit Mach 20. At that speed, engineers need to look at aerodynamics in a completely different way.
DARPA will need to develop thermal protection systems unlike those in nearly any other aircraft today, heat shields closer in design to the space shuttle than the 747.
They’ll also need to figure out how to steer and fly the plane. With an aircraft going three times as fast as some ballistic missiles, that’s particularly difficult.
Most importantly, DARPA will need to figure out how exactly to propel this ship. Right now, DARPA sees the plane – dubbed “HX” – as being a “recoverable, next generation vehicle augmented with rocket-based propulsion.” It’s turning to the industry for that aspect, so expect to see some of the usual suspects.
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