One of the United States' foremost aerospace companies, Kratos, is teaming up with an Australian firm to jointly build a hypersonic drone in what could be a first for both countries.
Kratos and Hypersonix Launch Systems announced the DART AE hypersonic launch demonstrator in a joint press release. The DART AE is a multi-mission mission aircraft that will be “fully 3D-printed out of exquisite high-temperature materials and powered by a single, fifth-generation SPARTAN, zero emission, clean hydrogen scramjet engine with a publicly disclosable range of 500km.”
Kratos has substantial aerospace engineering experience, and in particular, experience building small to medium-sized tactical UAVs for the military.
The partnership will see Kratos build a booster rocket for the DART AE to propel the hypersonic vehicle to speeds faster than Mach 5. The Hypersonix-designed scramjet engine will ignite at that velocity, and the technology demonstrator will fly to a predetermined location.
Information from Hypersonix explains that its scramjet engine is hydrogen-fueled and capable of propelling the DART AE during flight at speeds from Mach 5 to Mach 12.
“Kratos is excited to team up with Hypersonix on this innovative project and we look forward to supporting their development and the integration and flight of this truly disruptive and enabling Australian technology,” David Carter, President of Kratos’ Defense Rocket & Support Services Division in the press release. “DART AE is an ideal opportunity for Kratos to further showcase our extensive hypersonic launch system capability.”
David Waterhouse, Hypersonix Managing Director and Co-Founder, said that “Kratos is an experienced launch provider who has a proven track record of launching payloads around the world.”
“They understand hypersonic technology and flight and are ready to support us with the first launch of our transformative technology that will be faster, more sustainable, and more efficient than current technology. It is incredibly exciting to work with the Kratos team on this project and we are thrilled to share this news today with the public.”
Hypersonix advertises its vehicle’s hydrogen-powered engine as operating with zero CO2 emissions: It combusts hydrogen, a highly flammable element, producing water vapor and small amounts of nitrogen oxides during high-altitude flight.
Aladthough there are already several aircraft capable of flight using hydrogen rather than traditional fossil fuels, those aircraft are experimental, one-off designs rather than serial production models. Propelling any aircraft to those high speeds — especially one that attains hypersonic speeds — is an untested application for hydrogen power. Still, if a company can achieve hypersonic flight using hydrogen as a fuel source, Kratos is well-positioned to become that firm.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson