Hypersonix Dart AE selected as hypersonic test bed for the Pentagon

The Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has awarded a contract to Australia-based Hypersonix for its DART AE hypersonic demonstrator.
Christopher McFadden
Hypersonix Dart AE.
Artistic representation of the Hypersonix Dart AE.


A new experimental hypersonic cruise vehicle will be developed and tested for the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) by as early as next summer, C4ISRNET reports.

The program forms part of the Pentagon's push for sourcing non-traditional and commercial options for future military equipment. To this end, one Australian company, Hypersonix, has been awarded a contract under the Hypersonic and High-Cadence Airborne Testing Capabilities, or HyCAT, program.

The company's DART AE demonstration platform will be coupled with a launch provider to demonstrate its capabilities in supporting the testing requirements of the Defense Department. The Dart AE is a "three-meter-long, single-use, high-temperature alloy, hydrogen-fuelled, scramjet technology demonstrator," according to the company's website. The vehicle is hydrogen-powered and is heavily reliant on 3D printing to build its airframe.

The project, which is being led by DIU in partnership with the Pentagon's Test Resource Management Center and the principal director for hypersonics, aims to ease the burden on government testing infrastructure by utilizing commercial aircraft, payloads, and supporting technology. Since the program's initiation last September, Hypersonix has been one of the three companies awarded contracts through HyCAT.

Alongside Rocket Lab and Fenix Space, they will be providing launch capabilities. DIU has also expressed its intention to announce a fourth company to provide a second test vehicle. However, the value of these agreements has not been disclosed at the time of writing. According to HyCAT program manager Lt. Col. Nicholas Estep, preparations are underway for next summer's flight. The mission's specifics, such as the flight conditions, launch provider, and location, are being refined by DIU. This upcoming flight will mark the first fully integrated and autonomous flight of the DART AE vehicle.

“These next couple months are really where we’re going to solidify exactly how that’s going to look,” Lt. Col. Estep told C4ISRNET. “We’re trying to basically validate and make sure that we understand exactly how that mission has to run from start to finish,” he added.

The U.S. Defense Department is currently pursuing approximately 70 programs aimed at creating weapons and aircraft that can travel at hypersonic speeds, exceeding Mach 5.

The demand for testing infrastructure, such as ground-based test beds and aircraft, is incredibly high, resulting in only a few trials for major programs being conducted each year.

The Pentagon aims to conduct one hypersonic test flight every week and the HyCAT program is a critical component of this strategy. This initiative focuses on utilizing commercial capabilities to achieve the desired frequency at a low cost.

According to Estep, DIU anticipates that HyCAT will eventually reduce the cost of flight testing. However, there are currently no specific cost requirements set for the program. While the organization has an estimate of the initial flight cost, it is not being shared at this time.

“In general, going through this approach where we’re not dictating the exact requirements of the mission and doing a very traditional DoD acquisition with a traditional integrated prime, we know that it’s going to be a less cost for user than one of those . . . traditional hypersonic missions,” he said.

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