A diagram of the upcoming Hypersonix

NextFlex Awards $ 17 Million in Electronics Research & Development Funding, Hypersonix Gets Backing for New Hypersonic UAV

Engineers in the United States and Australia have secured a significant amount of funding to further their research on new aerospace and electronics 3D printing applications.

In Australia, Hypersonix Launch Systems has received $ 2.95 million from the nation’s government to fund the development of a hydrogen-powered UAV, which it is building using 3D printing “where possible”. In the United States, meanwhile, NextFlex has issued $ 17 million for projects seeking to advance research and development in flexible electronics, including 3D printed radio frequency (RF) and parts related to hypersonic flight.

“This latest round of projects focuses primarily on the critical FHE manufacturing developments that have been prioritized in the NextFlex FHE Manufacturing Roadmap,” said Malcolm Thompson, PhD, executive director of NextFlex. “These projects will develop revolutionary capabilities that will move to industrial practice and benefit US manufacturing.”

A diagram of the upcoming Hypersonix ‘DART AE’ UAV. Image via University of Southern Queensland.

NextFlex in the development of ‘FHE’

Founded in 2015 as part of a US Air Force research laboratory agreement, NextFlex is an organization representing electronics companies, academic institutions, non-profit organizations and government partners, with the shared goal of facilitating research and development of flexible hybrid electronic devices (FHEs) with the potential to advance US manufacturing interests.

To achieve its goal of promoting the adoption of FHE, NextFlex continues to build public-private partnerships with those developing approaches that have the potential to drive the commercialization of the technology. In the past, the group has sought to facilitate such advancements through its in-house technology hub, equipped with inkjet, aerosol and extrusion 3D printers, as well as manufacturing and testing spaces.

The consortium has also secured a huge amount of AFRL funding to pass on to any promising FHE development project it can find, including the first $ 75 million at its founding. Since then, the group has entered into an additional cost-sharing agreement that has seen the U.S. Department of Defense pledge to provide up to $ 154 million more, lending it the spending power needed to support cutting-edge research and development. .

Most recently, in February, NextFlex also launched its seventh Project Call, through which it made an additional $ 11.5 million available to those perfecting new FHE manufacturing methods and, after concluding its sixth, has now revealed the winners.

The featured image shows the 3D printing process used by a Nextflex member to produce FHE components.  Photo via Nextflex.
One of the 3D printing processes used by a NextFlex member to produce FHE components. Photo via NextFlex.

The beneficiaries of the Project Call 6.0

Under its sixth project call, NextFlex awarded $ 17 million to fund a total of 18 projects working to promote research and development of FHE technology, as well as its adoption in the advanced manufacturing sector in the United States. These winning entries will focus on developing a wide range of electronic devices, ranging from those optimized for use in harsh environments to low-cost 5G antennas, but not all of them are about 3D printing.

Of the projects lucky enough to receive support, four of them have been confirmed to be basing their approaches on additive manufacturing. Using some of the funding provided by NextFlex, for example, a team from GE Research is said to be 3D printing RF parts for hypersonic flight applications, while another is refining Integrated Deposition Solutions (IDS) for additive manufacturing circuitry.

Given the sensitive nature of some of the ongoing defense research, only a minimal amount of detail on the winning projects has been published. However, from what has been released, we know that Lockheed Martin is also looking into the reliability of 3D printed RF devices, albeit those created via Direct Ink Writing (DIW), and a team from Auburn University is focusing on jet control. closed circuit ink.

As with NextFlex’s other Project Calls, its sixth edition will see attendees cover contributions for the cost share, so its $ 17 million funding announcement includes $ 8.5 million from the winners themselves. That said, the initiative takes the group’s total funding issued to over $ 116 million, with more to be awarded in the near future.

Professor Peter Schubel of the University of Southern Queensland.  Photo of the University of Southern Queensland.
Professor Peter Schubel of the University of Southern Queensland. Photo of the University of Southern Queensland.

Hypersonix’s UAV 3D printing project

In other hypersonic technology news, Hypersonix has been awarded a $ 2.95 million grant, along with the University of Southern Queensland, LSM Advanced Composites and Romar Engineering to help its ambition to build a unique reusable UAV.

Designed to disrupt the global aerospace launch market, the DART CMP is a composite version of the DART AE vehicle, which will be powered by the hydrogen-powered SPARTAN scramjet engine, allowing it to reach speeds of up to Mach-12. Successfully tested in a shock tunnel last year, the propulsion system is also said to deliver a specific impulse five times higher than traditional rocket engines, while weighing around 60% less.

Leveraging the funding received through their grant for Cooperative Research Center (CRC-P) projects, the program engineers aim to develop a vehicle chassis construction process from high oxide-oxide ceramic matrix (CMC) composites. temperature.

While the exact role 3D printing will play in building the UAV is unclear, it’s clear that the technology will be used to produce its lightweight parts whenever possible. Indeed, a dedicated additive manufacturing team led by former SpaceX man Steve Milanoski is already being assembled for the project, providing a strong indication of the extent to which the technology will be used.

Having already secured an accelerated commercialization program or a federal “ACA” grant, Hypersonix is ​​now looking to push the development of its UAV forward, with the project expected to go into full swing in July 2022 and produce specialized materials for its aeroshell. and control surfaces, flight avionics and power systems by 2025.

“We are very excited to be working with Hypersonix, USQ and LSM on the development of the DART CMP,” concludes Alan Lipman, CEO of Romar Engineering. “The project represents a significant leap forward in technology for Australia’s fast-growing space industry.”

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The featured image shows a diagram of Hypersonix’s upcoming “DART AE” UAV. Image via University of Southern Queensland.

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