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HRL developing a new material for hypersonic vehicles; proof-of-concept for DARPA MDP program

HRL Laboratories, LLC (formerly Hughes Research Labs) will be developing new materials for hypersonic vehicles under the Materials Development for Platforms (MDP) program through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA-BAA-14-52). These new materials aim to reduce the weight and cost of vehicle aeroshells while withstanding the extreme environment encountered during hypersonic flight.

Currently, the applied material development sequence takes 10+ years. This is out of step with vehicle programs with much shorter design cycles, limiting new aerospace platforms from using new materials until they are proven. The goal of DARPA’s MDP program is to connect designers and material developers together more effectively and to compress this applied material development process by at least 75% to 2.5 years using a hypersonic vehicle’s aerodynamic outer shell (boost-glide hot structure aeroshell) as the initial test case.

Traveling through air at more than five times the speed of sound, these vehicles experience exterior temperatures in excess of several thousand degrees Fahrenheit, pushing heritage materials to their extreme thermal, chemical and mechanical limits.

DARPA’s constraints on the design configuration include:

  • Vehicle class is notionally 5-15 ft in length

  • Materials and designs must be developed and fabricated for windward outer mold line

  • Baseline and fabricated sub-element geometries and curvatures must have traceability to realistic environment and/or design

  • Aeroshell thickness must be minimized and be below state-of-art combined thermal protection system/substructure solutions

  • Surface roughness levels must satisfy aero requirements for mission profile

  • Generalized vehicle integration artifacts such as joints, seals, bulkheads, attachments to airframe/substructure must be developed and represented in sub-element designs

  • Single-use concepts are the baseline, but re-useable concepts are considered favorably

Led by Dr. Tobias Schaedler, HRL’s team aims to combine innovative additive manufacturing techniques with new high temperature materials. HRL’s approach will take advantage of the versatility of polymer-derived ceramics and the mechanical efficiency of optimized sandwich panel architectures to develop groundbreaking ceramic sandwich structures.

Sandwich panels are used throughout the aerospace industry for lightweight, load-bearing structures, but their use in high temperature applications has been limited by the availability of structurally robust high-temperature cores and scalable fabrication techniques. Our goal is to solve these challenges and develop ceramic sandwich structures that enable weight savings across a wide range of high temperature applications.

—Dr. Schaedler

This program continues HRL’s broad portfolio of materials development contracts with the government: Atoms to Products (A2P) Solider Protection Systems (SPS); Materials with Controlled Microstructural Architecture (MCMA); and new materials for hydrogen storage.

HRL Laboratories is a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) with two members: GM and Boeing. Government R&D contracts make up more than half of HRL’s research.



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