HEDGE Hypersonic ReEntry Deployable Glider Experiment Critical Design; A SCOT Analysis of Hypersonic Weapons Arms Control Policy

Harris, Spencer, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Goyne, Chris, EN-Mech & Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Forelle, MC, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Hypersonic vehicles are capable of flying over 5 times the speed of sound. Their immense speed, coupled with the ability to maneuver, makes them a technology of high militaristic interest. Hypersonic weapons could accurately strike a small target, or deliver a full nuclear warhead. They are significantly more difficult to detect, track, predict, and intercept. The rate of hypersonic technological development has skyrocketed in the past two decades due to advancements in material sciences and avionics. The United States is allocating billions each year towards hypersonics research and development.

My technical capstone project presents an extreme low-cost alternative to conventional hypersonic flight testing. This alternative testing platform was based on the infrastructure of educational cube satellite. If funded, the cube-sat will have its first orbital test flight in the near future. Working on my technical capstone revealed the potentially destabilizing nature of hypersonics. My STS research investigates the ramifications of the proliferation of hypersonic technologies, and the factors impeding stronger arms control. This was done in part by examining the social context surrounding hypersonic arms control efforts. Both projects are strongly connected through the topic of hypersonic technologies. Together, the projects present the social and technical ramifications of hypersonic technology research.

My capstone project was a collaboration with the other graduating aerospace engineering fourth years. Together we refined the design of the Hypersonic ReEntry Deployable Glider Experiment (HEDGE), a cube-satellite-based hypersonics testing platform. HEDGE will deploy from the second stage of a rocket into extreme-low earth orbit. After a few days, it will re-enter the atmosphere. During the early stages of re-entry, HEDGE will transmit data relevant to the development of hypersonic technologies. In two or three years and after more refinement, HEDGE may be launched. I am a member of the structures and integration team. We have worked on the design of the aerodynamic surfaces on the cube-sat, deployment mechanisms, and internal layout of electronic components. While designing, we had to take extra care to ensure that the changes we were making would not jeopardize the aerodynamic stability of HEDGE. Solving these problems has involved advanced computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analyses and extensive computer-aided design (CAD) work. Being in the structures and integration team also involved substantial collaboration with the other subsystem teams. While they selected which components to use, we worked together to determine the appropriate internal placements.

My STS research paper establishes that the strong arms control approach of a testing ban addressing the proliferation of hypersonic weapons has not been passed in part due to influences from militaristic and manufacturer social groups on international policy. The paper includes a summary of the existing literature on hypersonics arms control and opinions of relevant social groups. A methods section discusses the sources and research methods used in the investigation, including an explanation of the social construction of technology (SCOT) STS framework. In my results, the unique perspectives of three social groups relevant to hypersonic technologies are analyzed Through the lens of SCOT. These groups are military leaders, hypersonic manufacturers, and arms control advocates. I discuss why certain groups influence arms control more than others. Finally, the possible effectiveness and lack of implementation of a hypersonic testing ban are discussed in relation to the findings of the SCOT analysis. My goal with the STS research paper is to contribute to the understanding of difficulties involved with international hypersonic arms control policy.

Working on both my capstone project and STS research paper simultaneously was extremely symbiotic. The most significant benefit was how the technical knowledge I obtained working on my capstone project empowered me to explore the more technical contexts behind hypersonic arms control. For instance, a significant factor standing in the way of hypersonic arms control is the difficulty in distinguishing between hypersonic and conventional weapons tests. Working on a proposal for a hypersonic testing platform provided a first-hand glance at these technical similarities. Furthermore, working on my technical capstone project involved navigating the infrastructure of the military-industrial complex. The military-industrial complex plays a significant role in my analysis of the social influences around hypersonics arms control. Finally, my STS research served as a reminder to consider the ethics and social impacts of engineering. This is especially important in the design of technologies like hypersonic weapons, which can have the most extreme consequences.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
hypersonic, SCOT, hypersonics, arms control, STS, satellite, cubesat

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: Chris Goyne
STS Advisor: MC Forelle
Technical Team Members: Joseph Abbe, Dick Doyle, Samuel Kristy, Matthew Quiram, Hussain Asaad, Grant Duemmel, Joseph Lee, Kaiya Saunders, Danielle Ashbahian, Daniel Fisher, Aaron Liu, Jackson Stoner, Joseph Beasley, Avery Goldberg, Hong Ji Liu, Nicholas Storey, Zachary Carroll, Nicholas Haddad, Lauren Murphy, Lucas Talbert, Aidan Case, Spencer Harris, Corin Myers, Thomas Yin, Andrew Culbertson, Sean Jones, Kevin Nguyen, Mateo Nguyen

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: