Monday, August 20, 2012

The hypersonic cruise vehicle race is on

The X-51A Waverider under a B-52 last week
We’re probably years from seeing the deployment of hypersonic cruise missiles, but when it occurs, their impact will be big 

At first everything went as planned: the vehicle separated from a B-52 Stratofortress high above a naval air warfare center sea range in California and decoupled from the rocket booster. But 31 seconds into the test, a problem developed with a cruiser control fin and the X-51A Waverider hypersonic vehicle plummeted into the Pacific Ocean, missing its target of cruising at Mach 6 for five minutes.

Despite the August 14 failure, the race for hypersonic cruise vehicle (HCV) capability between the US, China, and Russia is still on.

The Waverider under the wing
While the commercial applications for HCV technology are self-evident, they have also caught the imagination of military scientists. One objective is to push beyond ramjet-powered cruise missiles, whose speed and range are limited by the need to keep the gas flow in the combustion unit at subsonic velocity. Being able to burn fuel when airflow within the engine is at supersonic speed would greatly enhance both the speed and range of a missile.

 My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

1 comment:

Michael Fagan said...

"While the commercial applications for HCV technology are self-evident — an aircraft achieving such speeds could fly from London to New York in less than an hour..."

Concorde. Insofar as a trip from London to NY is concerned, there can surely be nobody mad enough to consider that a commercial application any longer, e.g. with cargo (let alone passengers).

Having said that, it might be possible to consider hypersonic vehicles as satellite launch systems and there has been lots of thinking about this over the years.

But even that may likely remain a mostly State-military application for the forseeable future.