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For Release: Oct. 9, 1996

Don Nolan-Proxmire
Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
(202) 358-1983

Keith Henry
Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA
(757) 864-6120

Fred Brown
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
(805) 258-2663

RELEASE No. 96-164

NASA Seeks Industry Proposals for Hypersonic Flight Research Vehicles

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 1997.

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 launchers.

"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 systems.

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 hydrogen.

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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