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Orbital's Hyper-X Rockets X-43A Scramjet Test Vehicle To Success

A modified Pegasus rocket drops away after realase from NASA's B-52B before accedlerating the X-43A over the Pacific Ocean 27 March 2004. The experimental X-43A pilotless plane broke the world speed record for an atmospheric engine, briefly flying at 7,700 kilometers (4,780 miles) per hour -- seven times the speed of sound. NASA photo by Jim Ross
  • More pixs at Orbital
  • Dulles - Mar 29, 2004
    Orbital Sciences Corporation announced today that its Hyper-X Launch Vehicle was successfully launched on Saturday, March 27 in a flight test that originated from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center located at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Hyper-X launch vehicle uses a modified first stage rocket motor, originally designed and flight-proven aboard Orbital's Pegasus space launch vehicle, to accelerate NASA's X-43A air-breathing scramjet to seven times the speed of sound.

    Unlike vehicles with conventional rocket engines, which carry oxygen onboard, the air-breathing X-43A scoops and compresses oxygen from the atmosphere using the shape of the vehicle's airframe. This type of propulsion system could potentially increase payload capacity of future launch vehicles and make high-speed passenger travel feasible since no onboard supply of oxidizer would be required.

    "We are extremely pleased with the results of the Hyper-X flight," said Ron Grabe, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Orbital's Launch Systems Group. "After several years of detailed analysis, design upgrades and testing to address the factors that contributed to the failure of the program's first flight, it is all the more gratifying to have carried out this successful flight test. This flight was one of the most challenging missions Orbital has ever conducted and demonstrated our ability to take on and tackle the toughest technical challenges."

    Mr. Grabe added, "Our congratulations go out to NASA and all the partners on this program who persevered to get it right. We now have our sights set on a successful third mission to provide even more critical data to NASA's research into the field of hypersonic flight and to extend the flight speed record set today to Mach 10."

    On launch day, flight operations began when NASA's B-52B carrier aircraft took off and flew a predetermined flight path to a point 50 miles off the California coast. The Hyper-X vehicle was released from the B-52 at 2:00pm (PST) approximately 40,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean.

    Following rocket motor ignition, the Hyper-X Launch Vehicle, carrying the X-43A scramjet, accelerated to a velocity of approximately Mach 7 (or seven times the speed of sound) and reached an altitude of 95,000 feet. Approximately 90 seconds after ignition, with the booster at a precise trajectory condition, the Hyper-X launch vehicle sent commands to the X-43A scramjet, which then separated from the booster.

    Early flight results indicate that the X-43A stabilized, ignited its scramjet and provided flight data back to NASA engineers. Following the engine burn, the X-43A executed a number of aerodynamic maneuvers during its eight-minute coast to an ocean impact approximately 450 miles from the launch point. After separation, the spent booster impacted the ocean in a pre-determined splash area.

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    NASA's X-43A Hypersonic Aircraft Ready For Flight
    Edwards AFB - Mar 26, 2004
    NASA has set Saturday, March 27, for the flight of its experimental X-43A hypersonic research aircraft. The unpiloted 12-foot-long vehicle, part aircraft and part spacecraft, will be dropped from the wing of a modified B-52 aircraft, boosted to nearly 100,000 feet altitude by a booster rocket and released over the Pacific Ocean to briefly fly under its own power at seven times the speed of sound, almost 5,000 mph.

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