By Jeff Salton
05:21 May 11, 2010
DARPA has launched an unmanned hypersonic gliding vehicle that can reach speeds up to Mach 20 (13,000mph). The Falcon program aims to develop and demonstrate hypersonic technologies for prompt use in global reach missions and the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) forms part of this quest to produce an unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable air vehicle that glides through the Earth’s atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds.
Shot into the sky via the Minotaur Lite launch system, the HTV-2 glide vehicle separated successfully just outside the atmosphere and was operational for nine minutes, short of its target of 30 minutes, until its signal was lost (currently under investigation). It was anticipated the HTV-2 would reach speeds of 13,000mph and travel 4,100 nautical miles in around 30 minutes – from lift-off to impact in the ocean north of the Reagan Test Site in the Kwajalein Atoll.
The launch/flight, which completed many “firsts” for DARPA, was monitored by three test ranges, six sea-based and two airborne telemetry collection assets.
The Falcon program aims to develop and demonstrate hypersonic technologies for prompt use in global reach missions. The program team is breaking new ground discovering technologies and materials with high lift-to-drag techniques that can withstand extreme temperatures; precision navigation, guidance, and control; communication techniques through plasma; and an autonomous flight safety system.
As part of the Hypersonic Flight (HyFly) program, Falcon can call on technology that will help it answer questions about hypersonic flight and reusability using a number of HTVs to incrementally demonstrate what is required for successful flight.
As part of the overall program, it is hoped the HTV-2 will gain enough information from its rocket-boosted hypersonic flights to evaluate thermal protection systems, aerodynamic shapes, maneuverability, and long-range communication for hypersonic cruise and re-entry vehicle applications.
The HTV-2 program has two flights planned to validate its performance characteristics.
DARPA says technologies used in the Falcon program will also be utilized to develop a low cost, responsive Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) capable of launching small satellites into low earth and sun synchronous orbits. The Falcon program also addresses many high priority mission areas and applications such as global presence and space lift.