Mach-20 vehicle to launch today

Posted by Emma Woollacott

An experimental vehicle that can fly at 20 times the speed of sound and reach anywhere in the world within an hour is due to lift off today.

DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 is scheduled to launch  between 7:00am and 1:00 pm PDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on board an Air Force Minotaur IV rocket.

And success is by no means a done deal: on the vehicle's first test flight in April last year, the Air Force lost contact just nine minutes in, with the vehicle making a controlled descent into the ocean.

"Assumptions about Mach 20 hypersonic flight were made from physics-based computational models and simulations, wind tunnel testing, and data collected from HTV-2’s first test flight — the first real data available in this flight regime at Mach 20," says Air Force major Chris Schulz, the HTV-2 program manager.

"It’s time to conduct another flight test to validate our assumptions and gain further insight into extremely high Mach regimes that we cannot fully replicate on the ground."

During its brief inaugural flight, HTV-2 was able to collect data that demonstrated advances in high lift-to-drag aerodynamics, high temperature materials, thermal protection systems, autonomous flight safety systems and advanced guidance, navigation, and control.

For this second test flight, engineers have adjusted the vehicle’s center of gravity and decreased the angle of attack flown. They also plan to use the onboard reaction control system to augment the vehicle flaps to maintain stability during flight operations.

The HTV-2 is packaged in a special capsule atop the launch-ready Minotaur IV Lite rocket. Once this nears orbit, HTV-2 will separate and fly within the earth’s atmosphere at around 13,000 miles per hour.

More than 20 land, air, sea and space test systems will collect data needed to improve performance in future flights.