NPR logo U.S. Military's Test Of Hypersonic Space Glider Fails


U.S. Military's Test Of Hypersonic Space Glider Fails

The early days in any defense-related, high-tech military project are typically marked by failure. The infant U.S. space program in the late 1950s saw the failures of the Vanguard rocket program.

So there's plenty of historical precedent for the military's failed test last week of its Falcon space glider meant to test the concept of a hypersonic craft that could travel up to 20 times the speed of sound, more than 15,000 miles an hour. The hope is that such a craft could eventually allow U.S. aircraft to reach hotspots anywhere on Earth within minutes.

The Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 was apparently successfully launched. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced in a statement that it lost the data signal from the craft within 10 minutes of its launch last Thursday.

An excerpt from DARPA's press release:

Preliminary review of technical data indicates the Minotaur Lite launch system successfully delivered the Falcon HTV-2 glide vehicle to the desired separation conditions. The launch vehicle executed first of its kind energy management maneuvers, clamshell payload fairing release and HTV-2 deployment. Approximately 9 minutes into the mission, telemetry assets experienced a loss of signal from the HTV-2. An engineering team is reviewing available data to understand this event.

And here's how DARPA describes its goals for the project:

DARPA's Falcon HTV-2 program objective is developing and testing an unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable, hypersonic air vehicle that glides through the Earth's atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds—up to Mach 20. The key technical challenges of the HTV-2 program are the design and testing of an innovative high lift-to-drag aerodynamic shape, advanced lightweight but tough thermal protection structures, materials and fabrication technologies, autonomous hypersonic navigation guidance and control systems, and an autonomous flight safety system.