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Contact lost with hypersonic glider after launch
LOS ANGELES (AP) - 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.
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.
“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.
The agency said the launch of the Minotaur 4 rocket was successful and separation was confirmed via a camera. Communication was then lost.
“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.
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