During the 1980s, the attention of the Agency was centered on information processing and aircraft-related programs, including the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) or Hypersonic Research Program.
GAO reviewed the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) Program, a joint Department of Defense (DOD) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) technology development and demonstration program to build and test the X-30 experimental flight vehicle.
GAO found that: (1) although NASP was a technologically challenging and high-risk program, it had potentially high payoffs; (2) the program schedule and milestones to design, fabricate, and flight test the X-30 by the end of 1994 were probably feasible but ambitious; (3) since design and integration setbacks could delay the program and increase costs, increased funding could reduce technological risk but might not speed development; (4) NASA has the major role in technology maturation and the lead responsibility for civilian applications, since its personnel and facilities have been integrated into the program; and (5) although industry made significant investments in the program, NASP contractors were concerned about cost-sharing with no payoff, sharing proprietary design concepts with the government and other contractors, and reporting current and projected proprietary NASP-related investments. GAO also found that: (1) although there was substantial progress in some systems areas, development of materials to build the engine and to demonstrate engine efficiencies and component performance was necessary; (2) although there were potential military, space, and commercial applications for the X-30, existing or planned aircraft could prove more cost-effective for some missions; and (3) foreign development of operational aerospace technologies challenges U.S. aeronautical leadership and preeminence, provides independent access to space, and reduces launching costs.
The Rockwell X-30 was an advanced technology demonstrator project for the National Aero-Space Plane (NASP), part of a United States project to create a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) spacecraft and passenger spaceliner. It was cancelled in the early 1990s before a prototype was completed, although much development work in advanced materials and aerospace design was completed. While a goal of a future NASP was a passenger liner capable of two-hour flights from Washington to Tokyo, the X-30 was planned for a crew of two and oriented towards testing.
DARPA and the U.S. Air Force are working on two hypersonic weapon concepts. One is the Tactical Boost Glide weapon. A rocket accelerates the craft to very high speeds and altitudes, then glides back to earth. The other is the hypersonic air-breathing weapon concept, or HAWC, whose scramjet engine takes in air at supersonic speeds, compresses it, and pushes it through a nozzle out the back.
The military is requesting a lot more money for hypersonic research following some technological breakthroughs within the last few years. The trend began in 2010 with the achievement of 200 seconds of supersonic combustion in the air, on the X-51 Waverider experimental aircraft.
“Lots of friction [and] separation, potentially in the flows [of air, energy and physical materials]” happen in such a way that very good calculations about the material effects become “more guesses than actual reality,” he said.
Different mathematical tools and techniques can make that guesswork easier, such as the Reynolds-Averaged Navier Stokes, or RAND, formula, which allows you to predict what will happen as air moves across object surfaces.
The Strategic Computing Program enabled DARPA to exploit advanced processing and networking technologies and to rebuild and strengthen relationships with universities after the Vietnam War. In addition, DARPA began to pursue new concepts for small, lightweight satellites (LIGHTSAT) and directed new programs regarding defense manufacturing, submarine technology, and armor/anti-armor.
On October 28, 2009 the agency broke ground on a new facility in Arlington, Virginia a few miles from the Pentagon.
In fall 2011, DARPA hosted the 100-Year Starship Symposium with the aim of getting the public to start thinking seriously about interstellar travel.
On June 5, 2016, NASA and DARPA announced that it planned to build new X-planes with NASA’s plan setting to create a whole series of X planes over the next 10 years.
In July 2016, it was announced that DARPA would bring a group of top-notch computer security experts to search for security vulnerabilities and create a fix that patches those vulnerabilities and it is called the Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC).
In June 2018, DARPA leaders demonstrated a number of new technologies that were developed within the framework of the GXV-T program. The goal of this program is to create a lightly armored combat vehicle of not very large dimensions, which, due to maneuverability and other tricks, can successfully resist modern anti-tank weapon systems.