Hyper-X, NASA's multi-year hypersonic flight research program, seeks to overcome one of the greatest aeronautical research challenges - air-breathing hypersonic flight. Far outpacing contemporary aircraft of supersonic capability, three X-43A vehicles will fly at speeds of Mach 7 and 10. Ultimately, the revolutionary technologies exposed by the Hyper-X Program promise to increase payload capacities and reduce costs for future air and space vehicles.
MicroCraft, Inc. of Tullahoma, Tenn., is the industry partner chosen by NASA to construct the X-43 vehicles. The contract award announcement occurred on March 24, 1997, with construction of the vehicles beginning soon thereafter. Orbital Sciences Corporation's Launch Vehicles Division in Chandler, Ariz. will construct the Hyper-X launch vehicles.
The Hyper-X Phase I program -- an agency-wide effort to address one of the greatest aeronautical research challenges -- is conducted jointly by Dryden and Langley. Program management hopes to demonstrate technology that could ultimately be applied in vehicle types from hypersonic aircraft to reusable space launchers. Each of the vehicles is 12 feet long with a span of about five feet.
One of the primary goals of NASA's Aeronautics Enterprise, as delineated in the NASA Strategic Plan, specifies the development and demonstration of technologies for air-breathing hypersonic flight. Since the cancellation of the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) program in November 1994, the United States has not had a cohesive hypersonic technology development program, so the time is right for a new "better, faster, cheaper" program. Hyper-X captures National Aerospace Plane
technology, quickly moving it forward to the next step, which is demonstration of hypersonic airbreathing propulsion in flight.
The goal of the Hyper-X program is to flight validate key propulsion and related technologies for air-breathing hypersonic aircraft. The first X-43 is scheduled to fly at Mach 7. This is far faster than any air-breathing aircraft have ever flown. The world's fastest air-breathing aircraft, the SR-71, cruises slightly above Mach 3. The highest speed attained by NASA's rocket-powered X-15 was Mach 6.7, back in 1967.
For more X-43A information, visit: www.nasa.gov/missions/research/x43-main.html