The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Spain Backs Hydrogen Propulsion Plans of Hypersonic Aircraft Developer Destinus

The Spanish government this week awarded grants to support Destinus’s plans to develop hydrogen-powered hypersonic and supersonic aircraft. The funding from the Spanish Ministry of Science’s Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico e Industrial (CDTI) program, which is expected to total around €10 million ($11 million), will help the European start-up to step up research and development on initial models capable of supersonic speeds.

One of the two grants confirmed on March 23 will pay for the construction of a facility near Madrid that Destinus will use to design air-breathing hydrogen engines. The second grant will fund research into aspects of liquid-hydrogen-powered propulsion with a view to testing innovative powertrains for future supersonic aircraft. The size of the grants has not been disclosed.

In June 2022, Destinus—which also has teams working in Switzerland, Germany, and France—reached an agreement with Spanish engine maker ITP Aero to jointly develop a hydrogen propulsion test facility with support from Spain’s Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial. CDTI has now selected this project to be a strategic initiative under its Plan de Tecnologias Aeronáutical.

Spain’s government is making a strong commitment to the development of hydrogen propulsion with investments backed by the European Commission’s NextGen funds. Under its Plan Nacional del Hidrógeno, the country aims to be a major producer of renewable hydrogen and develop hydrogen-based mobility in various sectors.

The new funding has been announced as Destinus is preparing to make a first test flight with a hydrogen-powered post-combustor jet engine as it progresses plans to develop hydrogen-only engine technology in-house. The test flight will use a subscale technology demonstrator and be conducted near the company’s Swiss headquarters.

The test flights will continue to be run on gaseous hydrogen and will be carried out only at subsonic speeds of now more than around 300 km/h (163 knots). The Destinus team is already working on a larger prototype of the propulsion system that it expects to be able to support supersonic test flights by early 2024.

The company, which says it has so far raised more than $50 million, started test flights with the Jungfrau aircraft in 2021 and has also flown a larger model called the Eiger. It resumed flight testing with the Jungfrau in 2022, after the Eiger was damaged in a hard-landing incident.

Mach 5 Speeds with 100 Passengers

The long-term goal at Destinus is to produce an aircraft that would operate on intercontinental flights at speeds exceeding Mach 5. The company expects its initial passenger-carrying aircraft to have fewer than 100 seats. It aims to get an aircraft in service by the end of the 2020s and initial applications might be for cargo flights, with Brazilian charter broker Flapper having signed an agreement in 2022 to explain that possibility.

“We are delighted to have been awarded these grants, especially because they are a clear sign that Destinus is aligned with the strategic lines of Spain and Europe to advance hydrogen flight,” said Davide Bonetti, the company’s vice president for business development and products. “For deep-tech companies like us, access to these [European Union] funds is essential to carry out advanced research and accelerate the innovation needed to be competitive on a global scale. With these grants, hydrogen-based solutions for aeronautical mobility will be one step closer to becoming a reality.”