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Flight Vehicle Surface Sensor Network


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

OBJECTIVE: Develop an embedded, high-resolution sensor network for a flight vehicle exterior surface to provide real-time data input to a high-speed vehicle flight control system. 

DESCRIPTION: This topic seeks to develop an innovative high-resolution sensor network to provide real-time data to a vehicle flight control system. Flight vehicles operating at hypersonic speeds experience very high temperatures and aerodynamic forces. These temperature gradients and forces vary in magnitude and direction across the surfaces of the vehicle as it operates over the course of its flight time and profile. The performance of a flight control system would be greatly enhanced by the availability of real-time on-board sensor data. The proposed system must provide data on the surface recession, temperature, pressure, mechanical loads, velocity, etc. based on a network of sensors incorporated into the outer structure of a vehicle. A primary objective of this effort should be the determination of the optimal type, placement and distribution of sensors in the network such that data is available to the flight control system as it is needed. The system must be lightweight, easy to embed/manufacture, capable of withstanding high-temperature (5,000 degrees F), high dynamic pressure, and high mechanical loads. Measurements are to be captured in real-time for input to the flight control system. 

PHASE I: Develop a concept for surface sensor network to include identification of sensor types, number, placement, connectivity, data handling & processing, and interface with a flight control system. Determine processes/procedures for manufacturing/inserting/emplacing sensors into or within the exterior surface of a flight system. Demonstrate through modeling that the proposed technology solution can provide real-time data to the flight control system. 

PHASE II: Develop or obtain representative sensors of each type and test each under conditions representative of flight at high Mach number. Develop a prototype of the surface sensor network integrated into a flight vehicle exterior surface segment and demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed solution in meeting objectives under conditions experienced during flight at high Mach number. Optimize design/components to achieve size, weight, power, cost and durability needs for airborne/space applications. Phase II should conclude with a final design of the innovative solution. 

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. 


1: Michelle Cometa, 6 Feb 2017, "Smart Skins Sensors Are Ready for Takeoff", Rochester Institute of Technology University News,

2:  David Szondy, 25 Aug 2014, "BAE Systems Developing "Smart Skin" for Aircraft", New Atlas,

3:  Robert R. J. Maier, Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, U.K. , 12 Nov 2012, "Embedded Fiber Optic Sensors Within Additive Layer Manufactured Components", IEEE Sensors Journal ( Volume: 13 , Issue: 3 , March 2013 )

KEYWORDS: Embedded Sensor Network, Embedded Sensors Additive Manufacturing, Embedded Thermocouples, Embedded Pressure Sensors, Smart Skins Sensors, Smart Skin Technology, Hypersonic, Instrumentation, Piezoelectric 

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