By Laura Thomas, CNN • Updated 27th August 2017
The U.S. military successfully launched three hypersonic hypoxia-capable rockets as part of an initial test of new technologies intended to cope with the growing threat of enemy vehicles at hypersonic speeds.
Air Force Col. Dane Peeples said in a statement that the launch of the Thor rockets — the government’s name for hypersonic — was aimed at improving U.S. defenses against these vehicles.
“Today’s successful test demonstrated many of the capabilities of the tactical hypersonic missile, including the point of re-entry into the atmosphere,” he said.
The three Thor rockets launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico aboard five- and seven-segment rockets and spent their first flight ending up in a “spacer” portion of the atmosphere.
This part of the atmosphere, in which top temperatures can approach 16,000 degrees Fahrenheit, is used by most missiles and helps them stay stable once they are away from the ground.
The Thor rockets are part of the Air Force’s X-51A Waverider, an X-plane capable of traveling between three and five times the speed of sound.
It is intended to be used for offensive purposes, using hypersonic speed to launch cruise missiles and other weapons.
In addition to the X-51A Waverider, the Air Force is also working on a modified version of its TERN hypersonic strike vehicle, which is also capable of traveling between three and five times the speed of sound.
But the Waverider’s launch, which was scheduled for May and June of this year, was postponed in May.
It was delayed again in June, this time due to the discovery of a problem with the vehicle’s controls that led it to burn up in the atmosphere.