ARLINGTON: The race is on to build hypersonic weapons, missiles that blow through a target's defenses at more than five times the speed of sound. Or should that be "the race to grow hypersonic weapons"? It turns out an unrelated cutting-edge technology, 3D printing, may be the key to making hypersonics work.
The whole aerospace world is intrigued by so-called additive manufacturing. NASA has a 3D printer on the International Space Station; the Navy has tested one on a ship. Several rocket engine companies have built key components for these exemplars of high tech using 3D printing. The ability to build up components dot by dot, layer by layer, can be helpful in making conventional aircraft and missiles. But when it comes to making hypersonic systems, which require exotic materials and strangely shaped components that conventional methods can't handle, 3D printing may be essential.
"There have been some fundamental gamechangers in that world [of hypersonics], so, not only can you build them, but you can build them affordably," said Raytheon's head of advanced missile systems, Tom Bussing, in a briefing for reporters yesterday afternoon. "You can build things you couldn't otherwise build."
DARPA Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) Program
DARPA Tactical Boost-Glide (TBG) Program
Raytheon Excalibur Precision Guided Extended Range Artillery Projectile