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Center Innovation Fund: AFRC CIF

High-Altitude Atmospheric Reconstruction (AHW)

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

High-Altitude Atmospheric Reconstruction

Armstrong researchers are participating in an ongoing effort to model high-altitude atmospheric environments in order to improve flight planning designs for high-speed vehicles. The primary atmospheric conditions of interest in the upper atmosphere (upper stratosphere /lower mesosphere) include density, temperatures, winds, pressure, and expected uncertainties. These conditions must be characterized and understood in order to ensure the safety of high-speed aircraft and the people inside them. Reliable atmospheric models of the upper atmosphere contribute to better flight parameter choices for speed and altitude and enable faster, safer, and higher flights for ultra high-speed vehicles.

Work to date: Armstrong provided an atmospheric reconstruction of the flight regime or Best Estimate Atmosphere (BEA) for NASA’s Hyper-X (X-43) scramjet demonstrator, DARPA’s Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2),  the U.S. Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) launched glider, and the U.S. Air Force’s X-51 hypersonic scramjet. Each of these projects has enabled the team to refine modeling and data collection capabilities. Data is collected from weather balloons, aircraft, sounding rockets, satellites, and high-resolution assimilation models. During the course of these tests, the models used were accurate to a degree at best. Current models have become accurate to fractions of a degree in both latitude and longitude to 270,000 feet.

Looking ahead: The team is currently working on several projects: 1) a lidar project to detect and mitigate turbulence in the atmosphere to improve aviation travel, 2) modeling the effects of radiation on pilots, 3) investigating how cosmic energies are affecting the atmosphere, and 4) developing sensors for in-situ atmospheric measurements and transmitting these data to appropriate users.


  • Increases efficiency: Contributes to understanding of key parameters for ultra-high altitudes
  • Better materials for space travel: Aids understanding of the dynamics of high-speed travel in the upper atmosphere, which will lead to better designs and materials for hypersonic, supersonic, and subsonic vehicles
  • Improves safety: Information helps designers and planners reduce risks associated with atmospheric re-entry and radiation exposure


  • High-speed aircraft test flight research
  • Weather prediction and climate change research
  • GPS performance research
  • Over-the-Horizon radar and radio frequency communications
  • Improve Next Generation Air Transportation system (Nextgen) 
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Anticipated Benefits

Primary U.S. Work Locations and Key Partners

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