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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 1, 2011 at 9:11 AM

D9: DARPA boss on flying at Mach 20

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — Walt Mossberg’s interviewing Regina Dugan, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the federal research organization formed after the launch of Sputnik.

Among the fruits of its research are the Internet and GPS.

Dugan explained DARPA’s role:

“Our singular mission is the prevention and creation of strategic surprise.”

IMG00899-20110601-0917.jpg

Dugan became director of the agency – the first woman in that role – in 2009. Earlier she served as a program manager, working for instance on developing an explosives detection system modeled on the capability of a dog’s nose.

Mossberg asked how DARPA relates to recent growth in innovation by technology companies.

“We want to be involved in that. We’re agnostic about where great ideas come from,” she said.

Mossberg asked if the agency has any research going on that will have broad benefits along the lines of the Internet and GPS.

Dugan said defense is essentially a mini society with all the challenges of society as a whole – communications and healthcare, for instance. Things developed for defense should have “cascading effects” on society as a whole, such as new vaccine proteins the agency’s developing that are based on tobacco plants, she said.

An example she gave is the current hypersonic program, to develop aircraft that travel at Mach 20. The agency’s goal is to develop craft that can reach anywhere in the globe in one hour.

It works by boosting a vehicle up to space and then it glides to its final destination. The craft’s surface gets to 3,500 degrees – blast-furnace temperatures. Dugan said a flight last year didn’t last as long as planned but generated useful data about flying between Mach 17 and 20.

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