Thursday, August 11, 2011
Falcon HTV-2 hypersonic glider failed high speed test
The Falcon HTV-2 hypersonic glider was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 7:45 a.m. PST (1445 GMT) and successfully separated from a Minotaur IV rocket in the upper atmosphere several minutes later, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said.
Initial information about the flight was first circulated on the Internet via Twitter. About 10 minutes after the flight began, DARPA tweeted that the mission was "on track, entering glide phase."
But about 26 minutes later, the agency tweeted that its monitoring stations had lost contact with the glider.
Separation of the arrowhead-shaped aircraft from the rocket was confirmed by an on-board camera, and the glider began a descent aimed at reaching 20 times the speed of sound, the agency said in a statement later.
But nine minutes later an "anomaly" caused a loss of signal between the aircraft and monitoring stations. The plane evidently crashed into the Pacific along its planned flight path, the agency said.
"Here's what we know," said Air Force Major Chris Schulz, an aerospace engineer who manages of the hypersonic flight program. "We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight.
"We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It's vexing. I'm confident there is a solution. We have to find it," he said.
The glider is attempting to become the fastest aircraft ever built, with the ability to fly anywhere in the world within an hour. To do that it has to achieve speeds of 13,000 mph (20,900 kph) and endure temperatures in excess of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,926 degrees Celsius).
It was the second time the aircraft had been tested. In April 2010 tracking stations lost contact with the aircraft after just nine minutes.
'WE'LL LEARN, WE'LL TRY AGAIN'
DARPA said achieving separation of the glider from the rocket was a critical step in maneuvering the craft into hypersonic flight.
Researchers also collected nine minutes worth of telemetry data that they hope will help them learn to fly at super high speeds.
"In the April 2010 test, we obtained four times the amount of data previously available at these speeds. Today more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems were operational," said DARPA Director Regina Dugan. "We'll learn. We'll try again. That's what it takes."
Schulz said three technical challenges exist in HTV-2 flight -- aerodynamic, aerothermal, and guidance, navigation and control.
"To address these obstacles, DARPA has assembled a team of experts that will analyze the flight data collected during today's test flight, expanding our technical understanding of this incredibly harsh flight regime," Schulz said. "As today's flight indicates, high-Mach flight in the atmosphere is virtually uncharted territory."
The Falcon HTV-2 glider is part of the Defense Department's Conventional Prompt Global Strike program, an effort to build a system that can deliver a conventional warhead anywhere in the world within an hour.