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Continuous Communications Through Plasma During Hypersonic Flight


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Info Systems, Space Platforms, Weapons 

OBJECTIVE: Develop an innovative solution for communicating through the plasma sheath generated around an air vehicle at high Mach number. 

DESCRIPTION: This topic seeks an innovative solution for mitigating/minimizing the effects of the plasma sheath on communications to and from a flight vehicle in hypersonic flight. A flight vehicle traveling through the atmosphere at high Mach number produces a plasma sheath with a high attenuation factor—often leading to full blackout—for standard radio frequencies used in telemetry and other communications. Several approaches that have been considered for mitigation, with varying degrees of success, to include aerodynamic shaping, magnetic window, liquid quenchant injection and solid quenchant mitigation. 

PHASE I: Develop a proof of concept for transmitting and receiving communications signals in the selected frequency bands. Demonstrate through modeling that the proposed technology solution is the most effective and efficient, and most cost-effective for the government to implement. 

PHASE II: Conduct a laboratory demonstration of the proposed communication technology by transmitting and receiving radio frequency signals in the selected frequency bands through a plasma representative of realistic conditions encountered in atmospheric flight at high Mach number. 

PHASE III: Integrate the proposed system into a critical missile system application and generalize the application for broader use across government programs and commercial applications. Demonstrate applicability in one or more element systems, subsystems, or components. The demand for reliable, continuous communications, through a plasma sheath has a wide market appeal for commercial space launch vehicles, defense weaponry, and commercial and defense aircraft. 


1: Catherine Meyers, 16 June 2015, "Communicating With Hypersonic Vehicles in Flight", Journal of Applied Physics, AIP Publishing LLC, 1305 Walt Whitman Road, Suite 300, Melville, NY 11747,

2:  E.D. Gilman, J.E. Foster, I.M. Blankson, Feb 2010, "Review of Leading Approaches for Mitigating Hypersonic Vehicle Communications Blackout and a Method of Ceramic Particulate Injection Via Cathode Spot Arcs for Blackout Mitigation NASA/TM-2010-216220", NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Scientific and Technical Information Program,

KEYWORDS: Communication Blackout, Radio Signal Blackout, Plasma, Hypersonic Sheath, Reentry Vehicles, Blackout Mitigation 

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