Hypersonic Test Facilities and the Path Forward

May 3, 2024
Hypersonic Test Facilities and the Path Forward

With the potential to transform military defense, commercial aviation, and beyond, the pursuit of hypersonic capabilities has intensified in recent years. Central to this pursuit are the specialized laboratories known as hypersonic test facilities, where the future of aerospace is being established. 

Advancing Hypersonic Flight Through Testing 

Hypersonic test facilities serve as the stage where concepts are transformed into reality and where the extreme conditions of hypersonic flight are replicated and put to the test. These facilities are marvels of engineering, capable of simulating speeds exceeding Mach 5 and temperatures exceeding thousands of degrees Celsius.  

Through a combination of wind tunnels, shock tubes and cutting-edge instrumentation, researchers can recreate the harsh environment of hypersonic flight and study its effects on materials and systems. 

One key area of focus is propulsion systems, where researchers explore the performance of engines optimized for hypersonic flight, such as scramjets and ramjets. These facilities also play a crucial role in testing thermal protection materials’ ability to withstand the intense heat made during hypersonic travel 

Aerodynamic designs are another vital component, as engineers optimize vehicle shapes for efficient and stable flight at-speed. Additionally, sensors are tested to ensure they can operate effectively in the harsh conditions of hypersonic flight.  

Beyond hardware, Hypersonic Test Facilities also test models and simulation techniques, providing insights into the physics of hypersonic flow.  

Together, these technologies form the building blocks of hypersonic vehicles, with hypersonic test facilities serving as the proving grounds where they are tested and refined for real-world applications. 

Emerging Technologies Tested 

The insights found in these facilities are driving innovation across the aerospace industry. From advanced propulsion systems to revolutionary materials, the technology emerging from these laboratories is reshaping the future of flight.  

Scramjet engines, capable of operating at hypersonic speeds, are a prime example of this innovation. This technology has so far mostly been used in experimental military vehicles, but as more and more testing renders them ready for operation, they have started being used worldwide.  

Additionally, advancements in thermal protection materials and aerodynamic designs are paving the way for safer, more reliable hypersonic vehicles. Thermal Protection Systems (TPS) are vital for shielding vehicles from the heat generated during hypersonic flight. Advances in TPS include cooling systems and structures to manage heat loads. 

Investing in the Future 

Operating hypersonic test facilities requires a blend of infrastructure and resources. Highly specialized equipment like wind tunnels are essential for recreating hypersonic conditions. Additionally, a skilled team of engineers, scientists, and technicians is needed to design experiments and collect data.  

For these reasons, ongoing investment and support are crucial to maintaining and expanding these facilities, ensuring that they remain at the forefront of hypersonic research and development. The DoD is ready to invest in these initiatives and has stated that the need for a hypersonic workforce development is an ‘issue of national security’ 

The Role of NSTXL 

At NSTXL, we stand at the forefront of hypersonic innovation, leveraging our expertise and partnerships to prototype cutting-edge technologies. Through Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreements like S²MARTS (Strategic and Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems), we collaborate with government agencies, research institutions, and industry partners to accelerate the development of next-generation hypersonic systems. 

Hypersonic test facilities provide the essential infrastructure and capabilities needed to validate and refine the technologies we’re developing, here are a few:  


The development of hypersonic weapon systems has become a top priority for the OSD Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) Program, in collaboration with NSWC Crane and S²MARTS (Strategic and Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems). 

Recognizing the critical need to address gaps in hypersonic weapons development, the Hypersonics Advanced Manufacturing Test Capability (HAMTC) opportunity was created in June 2021. This case study explores how the HAMTC program successfully prioritized the development of hypersonic weapon systems, reducing time and cost while delivering advanced manufacturing capabilities to the Department of Defense (DoD) for future mission requirements. 

MACH-TB 2.0 

Another of these endeavors is the MACH-TB 2.0 agreement, a project aimed at transitioning the precursor MACH-TB 1.0 test bed from design and concept demonstration to full-flight test capacity by FY25.  

With a focus on modular open system architecture and multiple launch vehicle capabilities, MACH-TB 1.0 laid the groundwork for facilitating over 25 flight tests, culminating in the development of a hypersonic boost glide test bed equipped with an experimental modular glide vehicle.

Now, with MACH-TB 2.0 poised to elevate hypersonic flight testing to new levels of capacity and efficiency, the project promises to usher in a new era of innovation and collaboration in the realm of hypersonic systems. Learn more about the MACH-TB 2.0 program here 

Watch the video below for more insight on the MACH-TB 2.0 project, made by the Mike Dodd, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at NSTXL and the S²MARTS program team.  

Charting a Course for Tomorrow 

As we look towards the future, the potential of hypersonic technology is boundless. From enhancing national security to revolutionizing global transportation, the implications are profound. By harnessing the power of hypersonic test facilities and driving forward with innovative prototyping initiatives, NSTXL is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping this future.  

Through strategic partnerships, relentless innovation, and a steadfast commitment to pushing boundaries, NSTXL is leading the charge toward realizing the full potential of hypersonic technology, one breakthrough at a time. 

NSTXL is focused on building a network of innovators and creators across the most sought-after emerging technology fields. As an open-source platform, our approach was designed to encourage network growth and collaboration without stifling change. NSTXL supports their network by providing commercial-term contracting, open-source technology discovery, modern-day marketing outreach, a strongly interconnected network for easy teaming, and cybersecurity compliance support. 

The Strategic & Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (S²MARTS), managed by NSTXL, is the premier rapid OT contracting vehicle for the Department of Defense (DoD) in trusted microelectronics, strategic & spectrum mission, and other critical mission areas. The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division created S²MARTS to grow and engage an elite network of innovators, shorten the path to defense prototype development, and advance national security efforts. 

Share This Story