New Pentagon-funded hypersonic test vehicle could fly in summer 2024

a silver missile flying through the air at sunset
Artist's illustration of a hypersonic cruise missle. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

A new experimental hypersonic cruise vehicle could be flying as soon as next summer under an initiative from the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).

The Dart AE high-speed test aircraft is being developed by the Australian company Hypersonix Launch Systems following the award of a prototype contract by the DIU. 

DART AE is a 9.8-foot-long (3 meters), 660-pound (300 kilograms) scramjet-powered technology demonstrator that can reach speeds of up to Mach 7, according to the company’s website. (Mach 1 is the speed of sound, which is about 767 mph, or 1,235 kph, at sea level. "Hypersonic" generally refers to flight that achieves speeds of Mach 5 or higher.)

Related: US Air Force launches 1st operational hypersonic missile

The vehicle could now be ready as early as next summer as part of Pentagon efforts to boost its hypersonics flight-test cadence, C4ISRNET reported.

The DIU, which operates under the U.S. Department of Defense, describes itself as an organization focused on accelerating the adoption of commercial and dual-use technology to solve operational challenges at speed and scale.

The Pentagon is pursuing research and development of hypersonic defense programs. As part of this, the DIU has rolled out the high-cadence testing capabilities (HyCAT) project, which brings opportunities for commercial companies to develop reusable and low-cost test vehicles and reduce strain on DoD resources.

Lt. Col. Nicholas Estep, HyCAT program manager, told C4ISRNET that the DIU is refining the details of the mission, including the flight conditions, the launch provider and the location for next year’s first fully integrated, autonomous flight of DART AE.

Fenix Space, Inc., located in San Bernardino, California, and Rocket Lab, located in Long Beach, California, have also been awarded DIU contracts for a reusable tow-launch platform and the Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron (HASTE) rocket, respectively.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.