For Release: Oct. 9, 1996
Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
RELEASE No. 96-164
NASA Seeks Industry Proposals for Hypersonic Flight Research
NASA is poised to begin a multi-year hypersonic flight-test
program by requesting proposals from industry for the fabrication
of four unpiloted research aircraft that will fly up to ten times
the speed of sound. The contract award is scheduled for early
The selected contractor will be responsible for fabrication and
flight-test support of the hypersonic experimental research
vehicles to be called "Hyper-X." Each of four
vehicles will be approximately 12 feet long with a wing span of
about five feet. Hypersonic speed is defined as above Mach 5, which
is equivalent to about one mile-per-second, or approximately 3,600
miles per hour at sea level.
The Hyper-X Phase I program -- an agency-wide effort to address
one of the greatest aeronautical research challenges -- is
conducted jointly by the Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and
the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. Program managers
hope to demonstrate technology that could ultimately be applied in
vehicle types from hypersonic aircraft to reusable space
"It's time to fly. This exciting, challenging ground and flight
research program will significantly expand the boundaries of
air-breathing flight for the first time ever, by flying a
scramjet-powered aircraft at hypersonic speeds," said Vince Rausch,
the Hyper-X Phase I program manager.
The first Hyper-X unpiloted hypersonic flight research vehicle
is scheduled to fly at Mach 7 in 1998. 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. A rocket carries its own oxygen for combustion; an
air-breathing aircraft burns oxygen in air scooped from the
atmosphere. Because of this, air-breathing hypersonic vehicles
should carry more cargo/payload than equivalent rocket-powered
The goal of the Hyper-X program is to flight validate key
propulsion and related technologies for air-breathing hypersonic
aircraft. Heading the list is demonstration of a ramjet/scramjet
engine, followed by demonstration of design tools and methods for
air-breathing hypersonic vehicles.
A ramjet operates by subsonic combustion of fuel in a stream of
air compressed by the forward speed of the aircraft itself, as
opposed to a normal jet engine, in which the compressor section
(the fan blades) compresses the air. The fuel for Hyper-X will be
A scramjet (supersonic-combustion ramjet) is a ramjet engine in
which the airflow through the whole engine remains supersonic.
Scramjet technology is challenging because only limited testing can
be performed in ground facilities. Long duration, full-scale
testing requires flight test speeds above Mach 8. Hyper-X will
build knowledge, confidence and a technology bridge to very high
Mach number flight.
Hyper-X will ride on the first stage of a Pegasus booster
rocket, which will be launched by the
DFRC B-52 at about 40,000 feet. For each flight, the
booster will accelerate the Hyper-X research vehicle to the test
conditions (Mach 5, 7 or 10) at approximately 100,000 feet, where
it will separate from the booster and fly under its own power.
Four flights are planned - one each at Mach 5 and 7 and two at
Mach 10. The flight tests will be conducted within the Western Test
Range off the coast of southern California.
Vehicle and engine ground tests and analyses will be performed
prior to each flight in order to compare flight and ground test
results. In addition, the Hyper-X Mach 7 vehicle will first be
tested in Langley's 8-Foot High Temperature Wind Tunnel. The
vehicle, with a fully operating ramjet/scramjet propulsion system,
will be put through tests in the tunnel simulating many, but not
all, Mach 7 flight conditions.
The program is managed by a Langley-Dryden team. Langley is the
lead center and is responsible for hypersonic technology
development. Dryden is responsible for flight research.
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