On Saturday, U.S. military forces launched three hypersonic rockets over the Pacific Ocean to demonstrate the cutting-edge capabilities of the future spaceplane.
No word yet on what the rocket launch achieved from the Department of Defense news release. However, the tests took place in California, in U.S. Navy-owned airspace in a range known as Yuma Proving Ground.
The three X-51A Waverider rockets, created by Boeing, reached more than four times the speed of sound, the Air Force announced at a media conference this afternoon. The launch took place about 14 minutes after the rocket was launched at 9:08 a.m. PT.
The hypersonic vehicles provide a glimpse into a future in which hypersonic rockets could provide aerospace advances as far-reaching as the “never before imagined” ability to conduct and transmit video, along with dense inflight entertainment, into the living room of the future, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Such a flying circumnavigation of the globe in just a few hours would require powerful supersonic jets today. Those aircraft also require tremendous amounts of fuel, and so are limited to carrying a handful of passengers rather than a full commercial Boeing 737 aircraft.
Such a plane could carry eight passengers and two crewmembers, the Pentagon says. It’s important to note, however, that there is still much work that must be done to improve the launch capability of the current X-51A Waverider craft before it could be employed as a space plane capable of flying passengers on a route.
A hypersonic aircraft could see immediate use, however, when it’s used to carry U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps staffs and crews off to combat zones thousands of miles away. The aircraft’s first test flight last May was not intended for military use.
Hypersonic weapons technology would mean much cheaper space launch costs and a return to one of the staple Air Force missions: closing bases at a far more efficient pace than today.
The first X-51A Waverider was built for NASA and was hailed as a great demonstration of air launch propulsion technology. And the second X-51A Waverider was created for the Air Force and was also a great demonstration of hypersonic warfare technology.
The last test flight of the X-51A, according to the Pentagon, had an estimated speed of Mach 5.2. This was a key improvement, achieved when the waverider reached seven times the speed of sound. A United States Air Force version of the vehicle, called X-51A Waverider and developed by Boeing, was used to reach a speed of Mach 4.8.
This was the Navy’s X-51A Waverider. That’s the U.S. Navy version of the craft. That’s the Navy version of the aircraft that conducted the first hypersonic test flight in May.
The cruise speed of the Waverider was around Mach 4 or 4.5, which gives it a potential 2-hour cruise time when fully fueled. It runs on hot liquid hydrogen.