U.S. launches two test missiles at hypersonic speeds

The Pentagon has successfully tested two of its hypersonic systems Thursday, U.S. Strategic Command confirmed Friday.

One of the rocket launches, by XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx system, took place from California at 10:28 a.m. PDT, when the rocket came back down in the Pacific Ocean where it burned up in the atmosphere. This is an early stage of hypersonic flight demonstration, much like military and civilian test flights today of drones. “Hypersonic flight… is intended to demonstrate that the full range of technologies and capabilities can be safely, reliably and rapidly integrated into strategic weapon systems,” Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino said in a written statement.

“By testing two different hypersonic systems today, the U.S. military is taking important steps toward fielding a safe, reliable and affordable hypersonic weapons system,” he said.

The second test, by Northrop Grumman’s X-47B from Edwards Air Force Base in California, is a “low-rate initial production” vehicle intended to test both glide and takeoff technology. Buccino said there are no plans for the jet to actually fly on a weapon basis.

Northrop Grumman’s test vehicle used a modified Stratolaunch aircraft to launch a hybrid rocket motor, one that has never been tested before, which is expected to boost the craft by approximately 1,000 feet. Buccino said he doesn’t know what happened to the craft once it reached hypersonic speeds but it did complete its mission and entered the atmosphere. The Pentagon spokesman, however, did not confirm reports that a computer problem forced Northrop Grumman to abort. He said he did not know if the pilots were in contact with the ground.

Buccino said the test followed, and would have been faster than, today’s test of Air Force One, but the Pentagon has no current plans to fly Air Force One. He said the X-47B provides valuable data that could be used to build a future Air Force and Navy hypersonic aircraft, but he did not have details on cost.

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