Hermeus Quarterhorse Joins Hypersonic High Cadence Testing Program

Hermeus has been awarded a contract by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to mature hypersonic aircraft subsystem and mission system technology. Hermeus will utilize its commercial high-speed flight test prototype, Quarterhorse, to support technical maturation and risk reduction for future hypersonic aircraft. (Image: Hermeus Corp.)

Prompted by recent investments and advancement from the commercial and non-traditional sector, DIU started the Hypersonic and High-Cadence Airborne Testing Capabilities (HyCAT) initiative in early 2023 to address the need for low-cost, high-cadence test capabilities for the hypersonic community.

Since the original HyCAT post, continued progress includes expansion of performers, as well as a second, independent DIU program with a focus on on-boarding tech insertions for hypersonic flight systems. Hermeus Corp., the Atlanta, Georgia-based startup established in 2018 with ambitions of building a hypersonic passenger aircraft, is the latest company to join the HyCAT initiative with its commercial high-speed flight test prototype, Quarterhorse.

Under this contract, Hermeus will demonstrate key enabling technologies for hypersonic aircraft in relevant environments preparing them for introduction into future programs. These technologies include propulsion and propulsion integration; thermal management; power generation; and hypersonic mission system capabilities. This effort will transition the world’s fastest aircraft to an operational flight test capability for hypersonic capability experimentation, and validation.

“This contract with DIU expands our engagement with the Department of Defense, accelerating the development of future hypersonic aircraft,” commented Hermeus CEO and co-founder, AJ Piplica. “We’re excited to transition Quarterhorse to deliver high-speed flight test as a service and leverage it to mature the key technologies for Darkhorse. This contract is a key element of our bridge across the valley of death on the way to a future operational hypersonic aircraft.”

The first HyCAT flight, a pairing of Hypersonix and RocketLab, has been baselined for the end-to-end mission profile. This initial mission will leverage RocketLab’s HASTE suborbital launch service to inject Hypersonix’s DART AE, a scramjet-powered hypersonic vehicle capable of flying non-ballistic flight patterns. The initial mission date is tentatively scheduled for Q4 in 2024.

Fenix Space Inc, the reusable tow-launch provider, completed integrated concept design and initial flight trajectories for the hypersonic experimental cruise platforms.

The HyCAT initiative expanded the aperture to include additional experimental cruise flight teams, each with their own unique technical approach.

DIU also awarded a contract to Innoveering, a GE Aerospace company, for the prototype of an affordable air-launched air-breathing hypersonic testbed. With subcontractors Specter Aerospace and Starfighters International, Innoveering will mature the design, conduct supporting modeling and simulation, and perform system integration to deliver a robust, hypersonic mission in the coming years.

“This suite of current and future commercial capabilities provide the DoD cost-effective, high cadence test options using the best of today’s recoverable technologies and tomorrow’s reusable technologies,” says the Technical Director of DIU’s Space portfolio, Dr. Kirkendall.

Beyond the hypersonic platform vendors, DIU launched HyCAT 2 in May 2023, focused on technical insertions for key needs in the hypersonics community. One of the initial performers from this solicitation is NXTRAC, aiming to commercialize high performance, mass producible GNC solutions. Their solution will be aggressively designed, ground tested, then integrated for hypersonic flight evaluation. In addition to hypersonics, NXTRAC’s TDSA technology is being explored for a broad range of U.S. Government lines of effort, to include seismic monitoring and geothermal exploration with the Department of Energy and informing dynamic space missions with the United States Space Force.

“Our objective is to provide a diverse set of dual-use technology solutions to the hypersonic testing apparatus, addressing immediate and long term needs,” says Technical Program Manager, Lt. Col Nicholas Estep. “This is the ideal conduit for DIU’s involvement - providing mission-relevant, flight testbeds and novel technology insertions to the Defense Department hypersonic community of interest.”