In a test of hypersonic technologies on Tuesday, a pair of rockets were launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to loft a trio of suborbital missiles into space. As CNN reports, the launch marks the first time U.S. hypersonic capabilities have been put to the test, just weeks after the launch of an unmanned mission to space that achieved a record-breaking speed of almost 6,400 miles per hour.
The rocket launches on Tuesday marked the culmination of three separate tests of a hypersonic vehicle nicknamed Zephyr 1. CNN reports that the Zephyr 1 project was set up by a joint U.S. Department of Defense and Air Force venture called the X-51A Waverider, which was hypersonic in that it reached a top speed of nearly 3,700 miles per hour. The vehicle was designed to make theoretical trips between New York and Los Angeles in under three hours.
The launch of the rockets on Tuesday was almost a year to the day that an unmanned hypersonic research vehicle for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as X-51A Waverider, launched on a test flight that successfully reached an unprecedented 4,385 miles per hour. Defense News reports that in the run-up to Tuesday’s test launch, the Hypersonic Electronically Scanned Array X-51A test vehicle completed nearly 9,000 man-hours of flight time from Mojave, California, and Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
On Tuesday, both X-51A missiles were hoisted from a runway in Mobile, Alabama, and sent aloft to achieve supersonic speeds. According to NBC News, the three X-51As hit a maximum speed of nearly five times the speed of sound, however one of the three flew over Virginia and did not return for another test. CNN reports that the successful test comes less than a year after an identical X-51A succeeded in reaching Mach 4.24, nearly 17 times the speed of sound, on a test flight.
The Defense Department held two separate, smaller test flights in April and August 2017 to see if it was safe to pull the trigger on a shot that would launch the 3X hypersonic vehicle. On Tuesday, the crew was able to pull the trigger. The X-51A’s hypersonic speeds are linked with the 1X hypersonic in the X-51A, thus allowing a 10X boost, and the dual use of the X-51A and the X-51A’s provides the Pentagon with the ability to pursue both MXX and hypersonic missions simultaneously. Hypersonic travel has many practical applications including the future of long-range attack flights, which would only take minutes to reach their destinations, but these range of technologies are likely to remain limited for the foreseeable future, after the initial excitement fizzles and engineers focus on building a functioning full-scale vehicle.
Read the full story at CNN and NBC News.
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