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Pentagon Developing Super-Speed Spacecraft, Says Report

An early graphic depicting common aero vehicle design concepts that could be delivered using new reusuable military space vehicles under study by the US Air Force.
Washington DC (SPX) Mar 18, 2005
The Pentagon is developing a suborbital space capsule within the next five years that would be launched from the United States and could deliver conventional weapons anywhere in the world within two hours, defense officials say.

This year, the Falcon program will test a launcher for its Common Aero Vehicle (CAV), an unmanned maneuverable spacecraft that would travel at five times the speed of sound and could carry 1,000 pounds of munitions, intelligence sensors or other payloads, The Washington Post reported last Wednesday.

Among the system's strengths is that commanders could order a CAV - an unpowered glide vehicle - not to release its payload ifthey decide not to follow through with an attack, the report said.

The first-generation CAV is expected to be ready by 2010 and will be able to provide a global reach capability against high payoff targets, Gen. Lance W. Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command, told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday.

Within the next three years, the Falcon program hopes to enter a second stage of the effort: flight-testing two versions of a reusable hypersonic cruise vehicle, sometimes referred to as a space plane, that could travel a suborbital path, about 100,000 feet (about 30,000 meters) high, carrying a CAV anywhere in the world.

Unlike a missile, the vehicle could return to its base after releasing the CAV to deliver bombs or intelligence sensors, the report said.

While most public attention today focuses on meeting threats abroad with traditional land, sea and air forces, the Falcon program reflects how the Bush administration is increasingly looking to space to meet dangers it anticipates, the Post said.

The use of space "enables us to project power anywhere in the world from secure bases of operation," says the Pentagon's national defense strategy, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed on March 1. Among the key goals in the strategy paper are "to ensure our access to and use of space and to deny hostile exploitation of space to adversaries."

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Paris, France (ESA) Mar 17, 2005
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