Monday, August 15, 2011

The FALCON takes another dive

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's [DARPA] second test of the $320m FALCON program launched at 07:45 from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday. It's mission ended much as it's first one did in April 2010 - with the loss of the unmanned Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2).

According a statement, DARPA said that everything was going to plan up until the glide phase of the flight. When it reached it's sub-orbital altitude, HTV-2 jettisoned from its protective cover atop the Minotaur IV rocket, then nose-dived back toward Earth, leveled out and began to glide above the Pacific at 20 times the speed of sound, or Mach 20.

The plan was for the Falcon to speed westward for about 30 minutes before plunging into the ocean near Kwajalein Atoll, about 4,000 miles from Vandenberg. But about 20 minutes into the mission, DARPA tweeted: "Range assets have lost telemetry." [they lost contact with the aircraft]. The arrowhead shaped craft is reported to have sank itself into the Pacific as a precautionary measure.

Major Chris Schulz, U.S.A.F., DARPA’s program manager said “We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

Sustaining hypersonic flight has been an extremely difficult task for aeronautical engineers over the years. While supersonic means that an object is traveling faster than the speed of sound, or Mach 1, "hypersonic" refers to an aircraft going five times that speed or more. Thursday's flight still managed to return 139 seconds of aerodynamic data at a velocity between 17 and 22 times the speed of sound.

“We’ll learn. We’ll try again. That’s what it takes,” said DARPA Director Regina Dugan.

UNETIDA's Director of Research and Development Dr. "Quantum" Pataal was also at Vandenberg on Thursday. He denied the flight was a failure and suggested that if HTV-2 was not recovered then it was conceivable that it had broken the dimensional barrier and we should be weary of what an alternative universe Earth would return in response.

Sources: The LA Times /BBC/ Fox News

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