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12th July 2014

DARPA plans to speed process for developing new advanced materials

US military research agency DARPA intends to cut the average time to develop new advanced materials from 10 years to less than three.


darpa materials


Military platforms – such as ships, aircraft and ground vehicles – rely on advanced materials to make them lighter, stronger and more resistant to stress, heat and other harsh environmental conditions. Currently, the process for developing new materials to field in platforms frequently takes over a decade. These lengthy schedules often mean that developers of new platforms are forced to rely on decades-old, mature materials, because other potentially more advanced materials are still being tested and aren’t ready to be implemented into platform designs.

To address this problem, US military research agency DARPA has initiated a new program called Materials Development for Platforms (MDP). This aims to develop a methodology and toolset to compress the applied material development process by at least 75 percent: from an average of 10 years or more, to just two and a half years.

To achieve this goal, a cross-disciplinary model will incorporate materials science and engineering, Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) principles, and platform development disciplines of engineering, design, analysis and manufacturing. DARPA will focus on rapid development of materials with specific platform capabilities and intended missions in view – rather than supporting long-term, generalised materials development followed by assessments of potential applications for the resulting materials.

“In this program, we want to move from the current mindset of sporadic ‘pushes’ in materials technology development to a mindset that ‘pulls’ materials technology forward driven by platform design intent and mission need,” says Mick Maher, DARPA program manager. “Ideally, we could envision materials development happening on timescales more in line with modern commercial automobile development.”


hypersonic plane
A hypersonic aircraft


As a test case, the program intends to focus its initial efforts on a hypersonic platform design – a bold and pressing challenge, since hypersonic vehicles operate under extreme conditions that push state-of-the-art materials to their thermal, chemical and structural limits. Specifically, the first MDP materials development effort would be applied to the design of an outer aerodynamic shell for a hypersonic vehicle that would glide through the atmosphere. Hypersonic air vehicles travel at more than five times the speed of sound, resulting in shell temperatures of several thousand degrees – hot enough to melt steel. The goal is to prove the MDP concept by developing, manufacturing and independently testing various new material structural elements of an outer shell within two and a half years.

“A key to the program’s success will be integrating expertise from a wide range of relevant technical disciplines,” Maher said. “We want to reach out to potential performers in all of the relevant scientific and engineering communities – and from both large companies and small businesses – so they can team together to create the most effective solutions possible.”


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