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Weapons

X-60A hypersonic flight research programme completes CDR

11 March 2019
The X-60A hypersonic flight research vehicle is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5. Source: Generation Orbit Launch Services

Key Points

  • A major US Air Force hypersonic research effort completed a key milestone
  • The X-60A is an air-dropped liquid rocket designed for hypersonic flight

The US Air Force's (USAF's) X-60A GOLauncher1 (GO1) hypersonic flight research programme recently reached a major milestone by completing its critical design review (CDR), according to a 7 March service statement.

Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Generation Orbit Launch Services (GOLS) are partnering on the X-60A, an air-dropped liquid rocket specifically designed for hypersonic flight research. USAF spokesman Daryl Mayer said on 11 March that the CDR taught the service that the X-60A's design is mature enough to enter the fabrication phase, which has begun. Mayer said the programme is currently bench testing avionic systems and starting to construct structural components.

An important part of the programme is that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-licensed Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida, which is hosting X-60A testing, is providing a diversification in hypersonic flight testing to traditional Pentagon flight test ranges. Testing at Cecil Spaceport, Mayer said, allows for a more commercial approach to flight testing and helps to reduce scheduling conflicts with other Pentagon programmes.

AFRL's motivation for the X-60A programme is to increase the frequency of flight testing while lowering the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies in relevant flight conditions. While ground facilities are vital in technology development, the USAF wants to test those technologies with actual hypersonic flight conditions. Mayer said the service is planning two test flights in 2020 and hopes to increase the flight rate afterward.

The X-60A is powered by the Ursa Major Technologies' 'Hadley' single-stage liquid rocket engine, which utilises liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5. The X-60A is launched from a Gulfstream III carrier aircraft.

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