Understanding Thermal Protection Systems and the Development of the Hypersonic Speed Regime in the United States

Hypersonics TPS
Hypersonics TPS

POSTED:  February 17, 2021

BY: Megan N. Lietha, Doyle T. Motes III

Global advancement in hypersonic weapons development poses a significant threat to U.S. security and defense strategies. Hypersonic weapons have the speed and maneuverability to thwart current radar detection and alert systems–affording previously unavailable military and political leverage to those who can develop this critical, emerging technology. In the past, U.S. hypersonic research programs have suffered from cancellations, nonrenewal, insufficient infrastructure, and declines in existing infrastructure. But now, the United States is renewing its commitment to hypersonics.

In order to mature hypersonic systems for deployment on the global scale, new and improved technologies for thermal protection systems are needed to protect hypersonic vehicles from the extreme environment of the hypersonic flight profile. Any hypersonic vehicle that has an atmospheric flight profile will experience heating on its outer surface from the combination of air friction and incredibly high speed. This heating is so severe that it causes the rapid destruction of airframes made of typical materials (such as aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced polymer composites). Materials research, manufacturing, education, and a focus on sustainment are the foundation to rebuilding and strengthening the U.S. hypersonics technology landscape.

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