NASA to try second test of hypersonic jet
CTV.ca News Staff
NASA has scheduled Saturday as the day for the second flight of its experimental X-43A research vehicle.
The unpiloted four-metre-long vehicle, part aircraft and part spacecraft, will be dropped from the wing of a B-52 aircraft flying at 100-thousand feet.
The X-43A - a 2,800-pound, wedge-shaped object - will be released over the Pacific Ocean to briefly fly under its own power at seven times the speed of sound, almost 8,000 kilometres-per-hour.
The flight is part of the Hyper-X programme, a research effort designed to demonstrate alternate propulsion technologies for access to space and high-speed flight within the atmosphere.
It will provide unique flight data on hypersonic air-breathing engine technologies.
No vehicle has ever flown at hypersonic speeds powered by an air-breathing ‘scramjet’ engine.
In a scramjet (supersonic-combustion ramjet), the flow of air through the engine remains supersonic, or greater than the speed of sound, for optimum engine efficiency and vehicle speed.
There are few moving parts. After a series of successful wind tunnel tests, NASA hopes to prove that air-breathing scramjets work in flight.
This will mark the first time a non-rocket, air-breathing scramjet engine has powered a vehicle in flight at hypersonic speeds, defined as speeds above Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound.
Some researchers believe these technologies may someday offer more airplane-like operations and other benefits compared to traditional rocket systems.
Rockets provide limited throttle control and must carry heavy tanks filled with liquid oxygen, necessary for combustion of fuel.
An air-breathing engine, like that on the X-43A, scoops oxygen from the air as it flies. The weight savings could be used to increase payload capacity, increase range or reduce vehicle size for the same payload.
The X-43A will fly in the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Sea Range, over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California.
This will be the second flight in the X-43A project.
On June 2, 2001, the first X-43A vehicle was lost moments after release from the wing of the B-52.
Following booster ignition, the combined booster and X-43A vehicle deviated from its flight path and was deliberately destroyed.
Investigation into the mishap showed that there was no single contributing factor, but the root cause of the problem was identified as the control system of the booster.