posted on Jun, 21 2004 @ 01:21 PM
Hyper-X is an experimental flight-research program seeking to demonstrate
airframe-integrated, "air-breathing" engine technologies that promise
to increase payload capacity for future vehicles, including hypersonic
aircraft (faster than Mach 5) and reusable space launchers. The
test vehicle for the project is designated the X-43A. This multiyear
program is currently underway at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center,
Hyper-X is a joint program, with Dryden sharing responsibility
with NASA?s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. Dryden?s
primary role is to fly three unpiloted X-43A research vehicles to
validate engine technologies and hypersonic design tools as well
as the hypersonic test facility at Langley. Langley manages the
program and leads the technology development effort.
The Hyper-X Program seeks to significantly expand the speed boundaries
of air-breathing propulsion by being the first aircraft to demonstrate
an airframe-integrated, scramjet-powered free flight. Scramjets
(supersonic-combustion ramjets) are ramjet engines in which the
airflow through the whole engine remains supersonic. Scramjet technology
is challenging because only limited testing can be performed in
ground facilities. Long duration, full-scale testing requires flight
"We're finally getting down to testing the basic science of a new
propulsion system that could ultimately alter commercial aerospace
and national security," said Charles Vick, acting director of space
policy for the Federation of American Scientists. "It's a big step
forward for aerospace technology."
It would come after repeated setbacks to design of a hypersonic
craft. A $2.5-billion Reagan-era hypersonic program, based in Southern
California, was scuttled.
With one short flight, to begin off the coast of Los Angeles, NASA
officials say dreams of a commercial airliner that can fly from
Los Angeles to Tokyo in two hours instead of 10 is one step closer
to reality. The military's vision calls for a bomber that would
be too fast to shoot down.
Scramjet engines are air-breathing, capturing their oxygen from
the atmosphere. Current spacecraft, such as the Space Shuttle, are
rocket powered, so they must carry both fuel and oxygen for propulsion.
Scramjet technology-based vehicles need to carry only fuel. By eliminating
the need to carry oxygen, future hypersonic vehicles will be able
to carry heavier payloads.
Another unique aspect of the X-43A vehicle is the airframe integration.
The body of the vehicle itself forms critical elements of the engine.
The forebody acts as part of the intake for airflow and the aft
section serves as the nozzle.
The X-43A vehicles were manufactured by Micro Craft, Inc., Tullahoma,
Tennessee. Orbital Sciences Corporation, Chandler, Arizona, built
the Pegasus rocket booster used to launch the X-43 vehicles. For
the Dryden research flights, the Pegasus rocket booster and attached
X-43 will be air launched by Dryden?s B-52 "Mothership." After release
from the B-52, the booster will accelerate the X-43A vehicle to
the established test conditions (Mach 7 to 10) at an altitude of
approximately 100,000 feet where the X-43 will separate from the
booster and fly under its own power and preprogrammed control.
As the lead Center for the flight-research effort, Dryden engineers
are working closely with their colleagues from Langley and industry
to refine the design of the X-43A vehicles. Dryden also is managing
the fabrication of both the X-43A vehicles and the expendable booster
rockets that will serve as launch vehicles. Dryden also will perform
flight-research planning as well as some vehicle instrumentation
and provide control of the tests.
program was kicked off by President Reagan less than a week after
the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 in a State of the
Union address in which he described an "Orient Express" that could
by 2000 "take off from Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times
the speed of sound . . . flying to Tokyo within two hours."
with the recession and Congress under pressure from critics who
argued that such a plane would not fly, funding dwindled prompting
several aerospace companies to abandon or significantly scale
down the project.
kept up the research, however, tapping into studies completed
for the National Aero-Space Plane. The project left a legacy of
about 20 trailers filled with invaluable research papers and data,
NASA officials said.
X-43A test flight comes as a recent study by the Air Force's Scientific
Advisory panel warned that several other countries were developing
hypersonic aircraft that could pose both national-security and
commercial threats to the U.S. The report, which echoes warnings
made more than 10 years ago during the Reagan era, said extensive
work was being undertaken in such countries as Russia, France,
Japan, China and India.
worrisome were reports that the countries were focusing on developing
hypersonic cruise missiles.
report said "hypersonic offers the promise of a unique set of
capabilities and attributes that can dramatically expand and improve
Air Force core competencies and mission." It ended by recommending
that a national strategy be resurrected.