The Silver Dart is an autonomous and flexible hypersonic glider designed to operate as an orbital vehicle.
It extends the capabilities of the booster to provide access to LEO. It is designed to double as an unmanned
or manned spacecraft and can provide for a long duration platform in orbit. Based on the FDL-7 design which
is stable in flight from Mach 22 to 0, the Silver Dart has the glide range of 25,000 miles
(one earth circumference) with a cross range of over 4,000 miles. Such a glide performance provides for
departure from any LEO and landing in the continental US with no wait time on orbit. An all metal thermal
protection system allows for all weather flying. Combined, the thermal protection system and glide range result
in a reentry vehicle that cannot be trapped in space and is able to return to base from any orbit around the Earth.
The FDL-7 began with the collaboration of Robert Masek of McDonnell Douglas and Alfred Draper of AFFDL in the late 1950s on hypersonic control issues. After a series of experimental and flight tests with different configurations the X tail configuration and the FDL-7C/D glider configurations emerged as the configuration that was inherently stable over the wide Mach range and had Earth circumferential glide.
With today’s automatic flight capability, visual requirements can be met with remote viewing systems. The modified FDL-7 C/D configuration was reshaped to have flat panel surfaces, and the windshield provisions were deleted, but it retains all of the essential FDL-7 characteristics.
The FDL-7 was a thoroughly designed and tested configuration with a complete all-metal thermal protection system that had
the same weight of ceramic tile and carbon-carbon concepts used for the US Shuttle, but was sturdier. Crucial heat transfer tests on scale wind-tunnel models
revealed that the sharp leading edges combined with a flat-bottomed, trapezoidal cross section drastically reduced the heating to the sides and upper surfaces.
The Silver Dart program continues toward full scale vehicle production. The vehicle will serve multiple purposes, from rapid point-to-point
cargo delivery to space tourism service. As a cargo carrier, manifests will be integrated with the cargo modules in a clean room and then sealed before
installation into the Silver Dart. The modules contain power and equipment needed to preserve the integrity
of the cargo.
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