General Atomics Scores Power Production First

General Atomics Scores Power Production First

Mar 21, 2007

San Diego, CA, March 13, 2007. A team led by General Atomics (GA) successfully tested a new method for generating electrical power on board a hypersonic vehicle. A magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generator was operated to produce electrical power using the exhaust stream from a prototype hypersonic scramjet combustor simulating flight at Mach 8 conditions. This is the world's first successful demonstration of a hypersonic MHD generator. This will lead the way for future development of this technology as a viable means to provide multi-megawatt MHD auxiliary power systems for air-breathing hypersonic vehicles.

This work was a collaborative effort by prime contractor GA, LyTec LLC, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR), United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), and NASA. The United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) sponsored the research effort under the Hypersonic Vehicle Electric Power Systems (HVEPS) program managed at Wright Patterson's AFRL/Propulsion Directorate.

The scramjet-driven MHD power testing was completed December 12, 2006 at the UTRC Jet Burner Test Facility (JBTF) in Hartford, CT. The experiments encompassed two sequential series of multiple short-duration tests in the JBTF wherein an MHD generator test article was installed in-line and downstream of the scramjet test rig. In all experiments, MHD electric power was successfully demonstrated at varying magnetic field intensities and varying power levels. Preliminary assessments indicate that peak power production of 15 kW was achieved over the active portion of the MHD generator, which was well within the design range for the test article.

Gas turbine engines are currently used to mechanically drive rotating generators to produce electrical power for conventional aircraft systems. Hypersonic vehicles, however, use scramjet engines, which do not have rotating shafts to allow the use of dynamos. The HVEPS project posed the advanced concept of using an MHD generator coupled in-line to the scramjet exhaust to directly extract electric power from the induced electromotive force produced by the interaction of the exhaust plasma stream with a magnetic field. The HVEPS demonstration of this concept is a notable milestone that paves the way for further development of scramjet-driven MHD as an enabling technology for realization of a revolutionary flight-weight, high-electric-power system applicable to the next generation global-reach military aircraft.

The Air Force program manager for HVEPS, Mr. Rene Thibodeaux, stated, "The success of these tests moves hypersonic MHD technology from the realm of speculation to realistic possibilities. Electrical power can now be produced on-board an air-breathing hypersonic platform without carrying large amounts of liquid oxygen like the Space Shuttle requires"

General Atomics, founded in 1955, specializes in diversified research, development, and manufacturing in defense, energy, and other advanced technologies. Affiliated manufacturing and commercial service companies include General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., which produces the Predator® family of unmanned aerial systems.

For further information contact:
Martin Martinez
Program Manager
Space Power Division
(858) 455-2666

Photo available upon request
Doug Fouquet
Public Relations
(858) 455-2173