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Air-Launched Weapons

US Air Force’s X-60A performs integrated vehicle propulsion system verification test

04 February 2020
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The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) hopes to have two X-60A hypersonic flight research vehicle flights in 2020. Source: Jane's/Pat Host

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Generation Orbit recently performed X-60A hypersonic flight research vehicle integrated vehicle propulsion system verification ground testing.

The ground test campaign included both cold flow and hot fire testing with the Hadley liquid rocket engine developed by Ursa Major Technologies, Generation Orbit said in a 31 January statement. Flight-similar hardware was tested using flight-similar operational procedures. The test runs covered full duration burns, engine gimbaling for thrust vector control, and system throttling.

The X-60A is a single-stage, liquid, and air-launched rocket primarily designed for hypersonic flight research. It is being developed by Generation Orbit under an AFRL small business innovation research (SBIR) contract. The goal of the programme is to provide affordable and routine access to relevant hypersonic flight conditions for technology maturation, according to the AFRL.

The AFRL told Jane's in April 2019 that it planned for X-60A to have its first test flight in March 2020 and to have its second flight six months later. Barry Hellman, AFRL X-60A programme manager, said in the AFRL statement that the laboratory hopes to demonstrate the vehicle's capability to provide affordable access to hypersonic flight conditions.

This, Hellman said, will position the AFRL to deliver an innovative test capability for the US Air Force (USAF) and other Pentagon organisations. The X-60A can test a wide range of hypersonic technologies including airbreathing propulsion, advanced materials, and hypersonic vehicle subsystems. The X-60A is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5.

The upcoming flight test will take place at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida. The vehicle will be launched from a Gulfstream III carrier aircraft.

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