Hypersonic Glider Test Fails
Controllers Quickly Lose Contact After Separation from Rocket
Thursday, August 11, 2011
By Tyler Hayden
Though this morning's rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base went off without a hitch, the Minotaur IV's payload didn't perform as well. An experimental glider capable of slicing through the atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour — called the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 — was supposed to separate from the rocket and fly 4,000 miles to the Marshall Islands.
Instead, it petered out soon after being released at around 7:55 a.m., nosediving into the Pacific Ocean and drowning the $120 million mission. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which funded and ran the experiment, announced via Twitter that “downrange assets did not reacquire tracking or telemetry. [The Falcon] has an autonomous flight termination capability.”
The disappointing flight is another roadblock for aerospace engineers who've struggled for years to develop a vehicle with hypersonic capabilities. When it's working right, the Falcon can reach Mach 20 and, hypothetically, deliver a military strike anywhere in the world within an hour. The last test occurred in April 2010. That flight lasted around nine minutes before controllers lost contact.