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Australia’s Hypersonix selected by US Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) for test vehicle

Queensland-based Hypersonix Launch Systems has been selected to provide hypersonic vehicles to the United States’ Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) for testing under the Hypersonic and High-Cadence Airborne Testing Capabilities (HyCAT1) program.

The DIU has selected Hypersonix’s DART AE (Additive Engineering) vehicle. DART AE makes significant use of 3D-printing and is powered by a hydrogen-fuelled SPARTAN scramjet engine, capable of flying non-ballistic flight patterns at speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 7 and up to 1000 kms in range (400 seconds flight time). The DART AE has a modular payload bay of up to 20 lbs and Hypersonix plans to fly it in early 2024.

The Silicon Valley-headquartered DIU and its U.S. Air Force and Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering (USD R&E) partners taps into ‘non-traditional’ innovators. DIU’s contract with Hypersonix demonstrates the United States’ increased willingness to source commercial technologies from allied countries to meet urgent strategic challenges. It also came just after the AUKUS Australian nuclear-powered submarine announcement and aligns with the stated joint RD and acquisition goals of AUKUS Pillar 2.

The DIU selected Hypersonix from 63 respondents to the agency’s September 2022 HyCAT solicitation seeking vehicles usable for high cadence long-endurance testing of:

  • hypersonic platforms and components
  • sensors for detecting and tracking
  • systems for communications, navigation, guidance and control

Specifically, DIU requested a vehicle capable of operating in a ‘representative environment’ that can maintain speeds above Mach 5 with a manoeuvrable/non-ballistic flight profile and at least a 3-minute flight duration with near-constant flight conditions. DIU also wishes the flights to be repeated at short intervals.

Hypersonix responded to the solicitation with its DART AE vehicle whose first test flight is scheduled for 2024.

“Our vehicles are capable of non-ballistic flight … to at least Mach 7, which exceeds the HyCAT1 specification,” says David Waterhouse, Managing Director, Hypersonix Launch Systems.

“Our longer-term focus is to capture a slice of the emerging multi-billion-dollar commercial market for deployment of small satellites, but clearly Australia’s strategic defence allies see immediate potential in our technology.”

“This is our first major contract and a key step in our commercialisation process – we couldn’t be happier. This puts Australia one step closer to being a major player in the international space race,” Waterhouse added.

DIU’s contract with Hypersonix permits DIU to “transition” successful prototype projects into follow-on “production contracts” under simplified rules and without need to recompete a successful project. Under 10 U.S.C. § 4022 follow-on production contracts can be awarded up to an expected value of US$500m.

The Australian Federal Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources has supported Hypersonix with several grants, recognising Hypersonix’ leadership in scramjet technology and adoption of modern manufacturing techniques.

Hypersonix was founded in December 2019 to commercialise technology developed over the previous 30 years by its co-founder Michael Smart in major projects at NASA, with the Centre for Hypersonics at the University of Queensland (UQ) and the HiFiRE program. It is not the norm for DIU to award contracts to such young organisations.

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