Contact lost with hypersonic glider after launch (Update)

Aug 11, 2011 By JOHN ANTCZAK , Associated Press
This Aug. 3, 2011 photo released by Vandenberg Air Force Base shows a Minotaur IV rocket standing beside Space Launch Complex-8 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. A hypersonic glider is scheduled for launch atop the Minotaur rocket, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. The Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2 is an experiment in extremely high speed flight technologies by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Scottie McCord)

An unmanned hypersonic glider developed for U.S. defense research into super-fast global strike capability was launched atop a rocket early Thursday but contact was lost after the experimental craft began flying on its own, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said.

The problem occurred during the critical point of transition to aerodynamic flight, DARPA said in a statement that described the mission as an attempt to fly the fastest aircraft ever built.

"More than nine minutes of data was collected before an anomaly caused loss of signal," it said. "Initial indications are that the aircraft impacted the Pacific Ocean along the planned flight path."

The 7:45 a.m. launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, was the second of two planned flights of a Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2. Contact was also lost during the first mission.

Shaped like the tip of a spear, the small craft is part of a U.S. military initiative to develop technology to respond to threats at 20 times the speed of sound or greater, reaching any part of the globe in an hour.

An artist rendering from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) shows the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). US military scientists on Thursday launched the Falcon HTV-2 aircraft but lost contact with the experimental plane in its second test flight, officials said.

The HTV-2 is designed to be launched to the edge of space, separate from its booster and maneuver through the atmosphere at 13,000 mph before intentionally crashing into the ocean.

Defense analyst John Pike of Globalsecurity.org wasn't surprised with the latest failure because the hypersonic test flight program is still in its infancy.

"At this early stage of the game, if they did not experience failures, it's because they're not trying very hard," he said.

Pike said it's possible for engineers to still glean useful information about what worked and what didn't, despite the flight ending prematurely. The key is to analyze what happened in the final five seconds before contact was lost.

DARPA used Twitter to announce the launch and status of the flight.

The agency said the launch of the Minotaur 4 rocket was successful and separation was confirmed via a camera. Communication was then lost.

DARPA's statement quoted Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, the HTV-2 program manager, on the challenge of flight in "virtually uncharted territory."

"We know how to boost the aircraft to near space," he said. "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."

A team of experts will examine information gathered by more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems, DARPA said.

The HTV-2 is intended to put theory, simulations and wind tunnel experience to the test in real flight conditions at speeds producing temperatures in the thousands of degrees and requiring extremely fast control systems, according to DARPA.

The first HTV-2 was launched on April 22, 2010. It returned nine minutes of data, including 139 seconds of aerodynamic data at speeds between 17 and 22 times the speed of sound, DARPA said.

That craft detected an anomaly, aborted its flight and plunged into the ocean, the agency said.

The Falcon HTV-2 is an unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable aircraft. US military scientists on Thursday launched the Falcon HTV-2 but lost contact with the experimental plane in its second test flight, officials said.

The military and NASA have also been working on powered aircraft capable of flying at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5.

In 2004, NASA's unmanned X-43A reached Mach 9.6 on a flight off California. Powered for 10 seconds by a supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, that set a speed record for jet-powered flight.

The X-43A also set the previous record of Mach 6.8 earlier that year.

The unmanned X-51A Waverider, a demonstrator, developed by the Air Force, DARPA, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing, has been tested twice.

Powered by a scramjet, the first X-51A reached about Mach 5 for 140 seconds after being dropped from the wing of a B-52 in May 2010, according to Boeing. Last June, a second craft had problems in a flight off the California coast and the test was terminated. Two more flights are planned for the X-51A program.

The HTV-2 was launched atop a Minotaur 4 rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. from decommissioned Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Minotaur 4 made its debut last year carrying the first HTV-2.

"From what we can tell based on preliminary data, it looked like the rocket did its job," said Orbital spokesman Barry Beneski.

Minotaur 4 is part of the Minotaur rocket family. There have been 22 Minotaur launches since 2000 - a 100 percent success rate. The price of a single flight ranges from $15 million to $30 million depending on the rocket style, according to the company.

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User comments : 23

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iknow
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 11, 2011
Flush .. goes the cash
chthonic
4.8 / 5 (18) Aug 11, 2011
Alas, R&D costs money. Only sitting stagnating and staying stupid is free.
Eric_B
1 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2011
the gliders outer body must be made of one giant piece of aerogel to keep from burning up at those speeds.

Kingsix
1 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2011
Come on Darpa, shape up.
mmead
2.8 / 5 (8) Aug 11, 2011
You honestly believe DARPA or anything they say? I highly doubt they lost contact. There is a hidden objective...
that_guy
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 11, 2011
@mmead. Why can't a failure just be a failure. I get so sick of you conspiracy theorists sometimes. I have no doubt that darpa has ulterior motives for everything they do, but as far as what they have public, Darpa holds themselves to a pretty high level of accountability.

They don't need to play games at this juncture. They'll get all nefarious behind the scenes later if they want to. Hell, if they were so interested in hiding something, they wouldn't had made this public in the first place.
beefchop
1 / 5 (4) Aug 11, 2011
I'm glad it (apparently) went into the ocean and only killed a few thousand fish or whatever was there... next time, I hope they take more precautions and let's hope that Honolulu is not on the errant flight path.
_nigmatic10
1 / 5 (3) Aug 12, 2011
@mmead. Why can't a failure just be a failure. I get so sick of you conspiracy theorists sometimes. I have no doubt that darpa has ulterior motives for everything they do, but as far as what they have public, Darpa holds themselves to a pretty high level of accountability.

They don't need to play games at this juncture. They'll get all nefarious behind the scenes later if they want to. Hell, if they were so interested in hiding something, they wouldn't had made this public in the first place.


The best conspiracy theorists are employed by the government.
LKD
4 / 5 (4) Aug 12, 2011
"if they did not experience failures, it's because they're not trying very hard," he said."

I like this man!
LKD
1 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2011
"the small craft is part of a U.S. military initiative to develop technology to respond to threats at 20 times the speed of sound or greater, reaching any part of the globe in an hour."

I recall that ICBM's can reach across the globe in less than 1 hour. Did I read wrong?
Techno1
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 12, 2011
This is awesome weapon delivery system from both a tactical and strategic perspective.

The ability to sink any enemy ship, anywhere on the planet, within one hour, WITHOUT risking ships of your own, no nukes, and not even risking an manned aircraft, this is like instant neutralizer of any enemy navy...

Whether it's a kinetic weapon, or whether it will be armed with a warhead, say 1000kg of high explosive, will probably depend on target. The bigger the target, the more likely you'd arm with a warhead.

This is definitely an anti-navy weapon.

They might be able to develop a version that can deliver a massive shotgun weapon, or a barrage of rockets to attack whole squadrons of enemy aircraft, or to wipe out an enemy batallion of troops and tanks on the ground.
antialias_physorg
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 12, 2011
I recall that ICBM's can reach across the globe in less than 1 hour. Did I read wrong?

The point of such a hypersonic glider is to evade restrictions on the numbers of ICBMs permissible under the START treaties. (i.e. it's an attempt to restart the cold war and unbounded spending on military hardware)

That the system failed is great. We can only hope that the project will be binned with the next round of spending cuts. The last thing the world needs is another useless multi umpty-billion military system.
ABSOLUTEKNOWLEDGE
1 / 5 (6) Aug 12, 2011
fastest aircraft ever built?:)

a politician would say: that wasnt ment to be a factual statement and i agree

for the many dummies here and who have no clue about the secret space fleet

they have craft the can do hyperluminal speeds
witch means they can be anywhere in the universe in seconds
and be back for lunch break at the base

ofcourse they have slower ones up to light speed
so like 30 minutes from earth to the mars bases

believe it or not
LKD
5 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2011
The point of such a hypersonic glider is to evade restrictions on the numbers of ICBMs permissible under the START treaties.


Nice. So this is like saying to the DEA agent, "What drugs? This is foot powder"?
Techno1
3 / 5 (3) Aug 12, 2011
The last thing the world needs is another useless multi umpty-billion military system.


You miss the point.

Most of the money spent so far is R&D. Production of 100's or 1000's of these would TOTALLY negate all enemy Naval units.

You would be able to cut your conventional military to a mere fraction, while still being more secure than ever before.

Additionally, this is not a WMD. It wouldn't use nuke or chemicals.

This is a very powerful tactical weapon use to eliminate high priority, high profile targets: Ships, tank and troop convoys, staging areas, etc, of the enemy military.

If you hit an enemy aircraft carrier, you will either sink it, or destroy the flight deck, or if you are using a shotgun weapon, destroy all of the aircraft staged on it.

This has a lot of the advantages of a small, 1kiloton tactical nuke, but none of the drawbacks. No fallout. No pollution or radiation. Very "civilian friendly" compared to most other super-weapons...
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2011
Nice. So this is like saying to the DEA agent, "What drugs? This is foot powder"?

Exactly.

Most of the money spent so far is R&D. Production of 100's or 1000's of these would TOTALLY negate all enemy Naval units.

What enemy naval units? To whom? The only country that has a navy that can seriously attack anyone is the US. (and the only country that is using their navy to wage wars away from home for the past 50 years or so is also the US)

(Oh, and how does this negate submarines, which - last I checked - were also naval units)

The world is economically so interconnected that the larger nations (i.e. those that even have a sizeable navy or could conceivably build one) would be fools to start wars with one another. They'd just bankrupt themselves.

this is not a WMD. It wouldn't use nuke or chemicals.

Why not? Like any missile you can equip it with warheads of any type.
Egnite
not rated yet Aug 12, 2011
I'm a little confused, is this a scramjet or a glider? Mach 22 seems a little high for a glider but I suppose due to its shape it may never reach terminal velocity.
Techno1
1 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2011
I'm a little confused, is this a scramjet or a glider? Mach 22 seems a little high for a glider but I suppose due to its shape it may never reach terminal velocity.


The term "Glider" seems to be used for lack of a better word.

It's not a scramjet, however.

This glider gets so hot that it either ionizes or disassociates the air around it, breaking it into individual atoms instead of molecules. This probably changes the way the air behaves in moving around it, causing less resistance.

Several powered and un-powered versions of this concept have been around since at least the mid 1990's, when they were attempting to use electromagnetism to produce an atmospheric ion drive which was alleging capabe of mach 25 or so...
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2011
the gliders outer body must be made of one giant piece of aerogel to keep from burning up at those speeds


The last thing I read about the body designs is that they have been playing around with hybrid materials something like a ceramic, with metals such as copper mixed in. It behaves like a sponge with water in it. As the body heats up, the copper actually evaporates (ablates) out of the ceramic and keeps the ceramic cool enough that it doesn't get destroyed (at least until the copper is all used up). Just as if you placed a sponge full of water onto a hot stove, the sponge would not catch fire until you cooked most of the water out of it.

This has a lot of the advantages of a small, 1kiloton tactical nuke, but none of the drawbacks. No fallout. No pollution or radiation. Very "civilian friendly" compared to most other super-weapons...


The biggest thing is that nobody could shoot it down. It's unstoppable by current defenses.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2011
I'm a little confused, is this a scramjet or a glider? Mach 22 seems a little high for a glider but I suppose due to its shape it may never reach terminal velocity


The launch rocket gives it all of its speed. It reaches max speed just before it seperates from the rocket, way up in the outer reaches of the atmosphere. From then on, it will lose speed and altitude, but the aerodynamic shape is supposed to keep it flying longer than a plain old fashioned ballistic missile warhead would. They are also trying to figure out how to make it steerable, so that it could perhaps follow a non-linear flight path, such as if you were trying to avoid getting into a friend's airspace, but wanted to hit a target on the other side of them.

I wonder how much payload capacity they're trying to achieve? If it's not a couple thousand lbs, then it's just a surveilance tool.
GSwift7
not rated yet Aug 12, 2011
The price of a single flight ranges from $15 million to $30 million depending on the rocket style, according to the company


They must be getting the Peacekeepers for free, or not including them in this cost figure. Wiki says the total project cost, including R&D and production, for the Peacekeepers was between 20 and 70 million dollars per missile.
TrinityComplex
5 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2011
I grew up near Vandenberg, and they had some weird stuff coming out of that place. Every couple of years or so you'd catch sight of something you've never seen. In 2000 I was outside when something that sounded like a wild bottle rocket, but a thousand times larger, left contrails that looked like a snarl of string in the air in the space of about three seconds. I wonder if it was a test of the rapid control system they're trying to use for this.

I seem to remember talk of redirecting the heat this thing gathers from atmospheric friction to some kind of propulsion nozzle (Sort of a hybrid venturi style). If that was done it could potentially reduce heat and maintain higher rates of speed.

Try not to get too down on DARPA's spending. Their research has resulted in many things we use every day, such as the internet you're using right now. Maybe this could morph into faster passenger flight somehow.

"I'm in LA, and you need me in Paris in an hour? Sure thing."
Hell yeah.
that_guy
not rated yet Aug 12, 2011
The point of such a hypersonic glider is to evade restrictions on the numbers of ICBMs permissible under the START treaties.


Nice. So this is like saying to the DEA agent, "What drugs? This is foot powder"?


More accurately, It's like telling the DEA that it's not a drug, it's bath salts...If you're up on the news...you can pick these bath salts up at the gas station, and you are certainly not 'supposed to' snort or inhale these bath salts that come in 2 gram packages...