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LOS ANGELES – The U.S. military lost contact with an experimental hypersonic glider after it was launched by a rocket on a test flight over the Pacific Ocean last week, a defense agency said.
The Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 was launched Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and was supposed to separate from the booster at an altitude of several hundred thousand feet and then autonomously glide at 13,000 mph to a splashdown in a sea range near Kwajalein Atoll, 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.
James Oberg speculates that the concurrent launch of Air Force's Hypersonic Technology Vehicle HTV-2 is related to the (X-37B) mission. Part of X-37B's mission profile might involve a simulated enemy attack, which X-37B should detect and autonomously react on it. HTV-2 was launched at 23:00 UTC on April 22, 2010, i.e., 52 min ahead of X-37B, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Most of these technologies can be seen as refinements of ideas dating back to the 1960s, but one, unmentioned idea—autonomous approach—would be truly new, if speculations are correct, and it's indeed part of this spaceflight. This is the ability to identify an attacker by electromagnetic range finding and perhaps by chemical "sniffing" for effluents that an attacker might leak while trying to match up its orbit with that of the target.
To test such capabilities properly, the mission might conceivably deploy subsatellites to impersonate enemy craft, or bogies. They'd stalk the mother ship using autonomous approach techniques tested in recent years, giving it the chance to detect clues to their presence.