Hypersonic glider test fails


US military scientists lost contact with a hypersonic glider nine minutes into its inaugural test flight last week, a defense research agency said on Tuesday.

The unmanned Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) is designed to fly through the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere at speeds of up to Mach 20, providing the US military with a possible platform for striking targets anywhere on the planet with conventional weapons.

The HTV-2 was launched last week aboard a Minotaur IV rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The test flight called for a 30-minute mission in which the vehicle would glide at high speed before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, north of a US military test site at the Kwajalein Atoll.

The glider separated from the booster but soon after the signal vanished, a spokeswoman said.

"Preliminary review of data indicates the HTV-2 achieved controlled flight within the atmosphere at over Mach 20. Then contact with HTV-2 was lost," Johanna Spangenberg Jones, a spokeswoman for DARPA, told AFP.

"This was our first flight (all others were done in wind tunnels and simulations) so although of course we would like to have everything go perfectly, we still gathered data and can use findings for the next flight, scheduled currently for early 2011," she said in an email.


"Aside from its speed, another advantage is that it would not be mistaken by Russia or China for a nuclear launch," said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute who has done consultant work for Lockheed Martin.

The US Air Force has also looked at hypersonic vehicles for intelligence-gathering if spy satellites in low orbit were attacked, he said.

This technology has been difficult to master so far. I do not know to what extent these vehicles are liked scram jet engines, but those have also been difficult to master. It is cutting edge technology so failure is not unexpected in the early stages of development.

While the story indicates that the test vehicle contact was lost, it is not clear to me whether the unit landed somewhere else or went into outer space. The other alternative is that it came apart in flight.

Danger Room has more on the disappearing hypersonic craft.


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