Blazing hot booming sky-spear ‘is the new Stealth’
Pentagon wild-card warboffin agency DARPA has plunged back into the hypersonics fray with a vengeance, announcing plans to build a “recoverable” rocket plane capable of Mach 20 speeds within four years.
The new project appears under the banner “Integrated Hypersonics”, acknowledging that several new technologies will be needed to get aeroplanes flying at twenty times the speed of sound.
Ramjet and scramjet fans will be disappointed, however. DARPA seems to have accepted that there’s no realistic prospect of using air-breathing engines at these speeds, and instead the agency envisages a plane which will be powered up to flying speed by a disposable rocket stack or “launch vehicle” and then enter a hypersonic glide. However the 2016 “Hypersonic X-plane”, or HX, will also have its own onboard rocket which can be used to give it a further push in order to extend its range.
DARPA specifies that the HX itself will be “recoverable” – that is, it won’t simply crash into the Pacific or wherever as a total loss after flight. However it’s not clear at this stage whether it will splash down for subsequent recovery – perhaps under a parachute – in the fashion of a space capsule, or actually come in for a runway landing like a space shuttle or the X-37B robot minishuttle.
Though the HX is expected to build on discoveries made during the recent DARPA HTV-2 boost-glide tests, in which one-shot hypersonic gliders were fired aloft on space launch rockets, the new plane is all about flight within the atmosphere. Its custom launch rocket will be “a single, integrated launch vehicle designed to precisely insert a hypersonic glide vehicle into its desired trajectory, rather than a booster designed for space missions”.
That said, those keen to see some proper spaceplanes – ones able to actually reach orbit without throwing most of themselves away, already – needn’t feel too downhearted. The new class of hyperspeed rocket planes and craft will be used for a range of missions:
The goal of the IH program is to develop, mature, and test next- generation technologies needed for global-range, maneuverable, hypersonic flight at Mach 20 and above for missions ranging from space access to survivable, time-critical transport to conventional prompt global strike.
“Space access” would seem to indicated that the spaceplane dream is not yet dead. “Survivable, time critical transport” is plainly a revisit to the long-touted idea of despatching not bombs or warheads but small groups of troops – most probably elite special forces ones – round the world extremely quickly, an idea long touted by enthusiasts in the US Marines.
via The Register – Lewis Page
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