Weapons specialist searches for possible partners to help accelerate schedule

Armament and space systems specialist ATK is looking for possible partners to help speed up the potential development of a hypersonic Mach 5 cruise missile.

The company-funded missile project uses a booster rocket and an air-breathing engine thought to be either a turbine-based combined-cycle (TBCC) powerplant or a supersonic-combustion ramjet (scramjet).

The “multi-platform-capable” propulsion combination is expected to give the cruise missile a range of 1,100km (600nm) with a 113kg (250lb) warhead. “It should cover that distance in 13 minutes,” says ATK GASL’s New York operations vice-president Robert Bakos, who adds: “We are looking at taking it to flight demonstration in about three years.”

The schedule is relatively short because of what Bakos describes as the “low-cost hypersonic missile” design. “By boosting directly to the cruise point we think we can have a very simple propulsion system which will minimise cost, risk and shorten the schedule.”

Speaking at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics meeting in Tucson, Arizona, Bakos said the effort could be accelerated. “We believe it could happen sooner with the right funding profile, and we’d welcome anyone who can help us.” The company, which was formed in 2003 when ATK took over GASL, is already busy with several other hypersonic ventures, including a possible revival of the X-43C Hyper-X project with NASA and Boeing.

The original X-43C plan was scrapped along with a host of other aeronautics projects late last year, but a small amount of funding since awarded to ATK has allowed the nucleus of NASA’s hypersonic team to keep going, along with some related studies of the revolutionary turbine accelerator (RTA).

The RTA is a multi-mode afterburner and ram burner, and was being developed as a candidate TBCC propulsion technology for a future reusable vehicle launch. During take-off and transition to supersonic flight, the RTA is designed to be a conventional afterburner boosting the turbine engine’s thrust by around 50%. Between Mach 2 and 3, the afterburner was designed to transition to a ram burner, accelerating the vehicle to speeds above Mach 4.

A more likely avenue for funding could be found under the umbrella of the US National Aerospace Initiative (NAI) – a US government and industry effort aimed at focusing research and technology towards specific defence goals, including high-speed/hypersonics, space access and space technology.

The US Department of Defense says the first fruits of NAI will almost certainly be expendable hypersonic missiles.

Current missile-related efforts within NAI include the US Navy’s RATTLR time-critical long-range strike programme, the US Air Force/Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) high-speed turbine engine demonstration, the US Navy/DARPA hypersonic flight effort and the USAF/DARPA single engine demonstrator.


Source: Flight International