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X-43A Goes Hypersonic.

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scramjet aircraft.
scramjet aircraft: Image credit: NASA.

A NASA X-43A prototype scramjet aircraft performed a successful test on Saturday, reaching a top speed of Mach 7. The X-43A was mounted to the front of a Pegasus rocket which was dropped from a B-52 bomber. The rocket carried it to an altitude of 29,000 metres and then the X-43A fired its scramjet for 10 seconds, extinguishing its Hydrogen fuel supply. It flew for a few more minutes to record aerodynamic data. Another test flight is scheduled for later this year.

NASA's second X-43A hypersonic research aircraft flew successfully today, the first time an airbreathing scramjet powered aircraft has flown freely.

The unpiloted vehicle's supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, ignited as planned and operated for the duration of its Hydrogen fuel supply, which lasted about 10 seconds. The X-43A reached its test speed of Mach 7.

"It's been a great, record-breaking day," said Larry Huebner, NASA Langley Research Center's Hyper-X propulsion lead. "We achieved positive acceleration of the vehicle while we were climbing, and maintained outstanding vehicle control. This was a world-record speed for air-breathing flight," Huebner said.

The flight, originating from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, began at 12:40 p.m. PST, as NASA's B-52B launch aircraft carrying the X-43A lifted off the runway. The X-43A, mounted on a modified Pegasus booster rocket, was launched from the B-52B just before 2 p.m. The rocket boosted the X-43A up to its test altitude of about 95,000 ft. over the Pacific Ocean, where the X-43A separated from the booster and flew freely for several minutes following scramjet engine operation, in order to gather aerodynamic data.

"Today was a grand-slam in the bottom of the 12th," said Joel Sitz, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center's X-43A project manager. "It was fun all the way to Mach 7. We separated the research vehicle from the launch vehicle, as well as separating the real from the imagined," Sitz said.

NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., jointly conduct the Hyper-X program. ATK GASL (formerly MicroCraft, Inc.) in Tullahoma, Tenn., built both the vehicle and the engine, and Boeing Phantom Works in Huntington Beach, Calif., designed the thermal protection and onboard systems. The booster is a modified Pegasus rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. Chandler, Ariz.

Original Source: NASA News Release

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