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DARPA issues statement on failed flight of hypersonic aircraft

August 11, 2011 |  4:31 pm

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency released a statement on today’s flight of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2.

According to the statement, DARPA, as the agency is known, said that everything was going to plan up until the glide phase, which occurred about nine minutes into flight.

As we reported earlier: The Falcon launched at 7:45 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, into the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere aboard an eight-story Minotaur IV rocket, made by Orbital Sciences Corp.

After reaching an undisclosed sub-orbital altitude, the aircraft jettisoned from its protective cover atop the 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.

Then the trouble began.

“Here’s what we know,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA’s program manager. “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.”

DARPA also said that information was gathered from more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems.

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

That’s an interesting statement because Thursday’s launch was the second and last scheduled flight for the Falcon program, which began in 2003 and cost taxpayers about $320 million.

“DARPA has assembled a team of experts that will analyze the flight data collected during today’s test flight, expanding our technical understanding of this incredibly harsh flight regime,” said Schulz, the prograam manager. “As today’s flight indicates, high-Mach flight in the atmosphere is virtually uncharted territory. ”

A more in-depth story is posted here.

Take a look at the animated video above on what DARPA envisioned the Falcon's test flight accomplishing.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

twitter.com/wjhenn

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