X-43 Hyper - X

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X-43 is a small, unmanned hypersonic scramjet test vehicle which is part of the Hyper-X aerospace research program. The Hyper-X program will consist of three programs: X-43A, X-43B and X-43C. The X-43 is also part of the X-plane series of aircraft (X stands for experimental).

The X-43A vehicle is a lifting body and has a wave rider design/shape. The X-43A is air-launched by an Orbital Science Pegasus Rocket. X-43B and X-43C may use a similar design.

How does the X-43A work?

The X-43A vehicle is attached to a Pegasus rocket which carried under the Belly of a NASA B-52 aircraft. The Pegasus rocket is released at a certain height and the  accelerates the small, unmanned Hyper-X research vehicle (the X-43A) to a predetermined altitude and Mach number, where it separates itself to conduct its mission.

X-43A Specifications:

Length: 12 feet
Weight: 1,300 Kg (3000 pounds)

Orbital Science's Launch Systems Group (LSG) built three Pegasus-derivative rockets. The Hyper-X research vehicles were developed by Micro Craft Inc. of Tullahoma, Tennessee and the program is administered jointly by NASA's Dryden and Langley Research Centers.

History of X-43A Test Flights

NASA's hypersonic scramjet test vehicle, the X-43A Hyper-X, was introduced to the media at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

X-43A will perform three hypersonic test flights:

* Flight 1:  June 2, 2001

The first flight failed when the booster disintegrated after release from NASA's Boeing B-52.

* Flight 2:  March 27, 2004

The second X-43A set a speed record of Mach 6.83 in March 27, 2004. The record was previously held by the the SR-71 Blackbird which cruised slightly above Mach 3, or approximately 2,100 miles per hour. The Sr-71 is still the world's fastest manned air-breathing aircraft.

* Flight 3:  November, 2004

The third and final flight of the unmanned, scramjet-powered X-43A is scheduled for early November 2004.

NASA conducted a captive-carry dress rehearsal of the planned Mach 10 flight of its X-34A hypersonic research aircraft on 27 September 2004.

What is Hyper-X?

Hyper-X program's aim is to demonstrate future hypersonic propulsion and airframe technologies. Originally Hyper-X was a five-year, $200 million effort.

The Hyper-X missions will originate from Edwards AFB and will fly off the coast of California. The Hyper-X launch vehicle and scramjet research vehicle "stack" will be air-launched from NASA's B-52B carrier aircraft, the same one used on the original Pegasus missions in the early 1990's, as well as on the X-15 and numerous other experimental aircraft programs in the past. The booster will accelerate the stack to a predetermined altitude and Mach number, after which the X-43A will separate from the booster and fly under its own power at seven times the speed of sound. Currently,  Hyper-X is planned to fly faster than any air-breathing vehicle before, opening the frontier for aircraft with speeds measured in miles per second.

For the Hyper-X Launch Vehicle, the Pegasus rocket's second and third stages have been eliminated, as has the fairing, which is normally used to protect satellite payloads. The Hyper-X research vehicle and its adapter will ride atop the front of a specially configured Pegasus first stage solid rocket motor. A newly developed thermal protection system will protect the Pegasus composite structures against severe heating loads associated with lower-altitude hypersonic operations. Other modifications to Pegasus include upgraded first stage guidance and an avionics repackaging that permits ballasting of the booster for flight conditions between Mach 7 and 10.

Did you know?

- Scramjet stands for Supersonic Combustion Ramjet.

- NASA is using the Hyper-X vehicles to test Scramjet propulsion technologies that could be applied to future reusable space launchers and hypersonic aircraft. While vehicles with conventional rocket engines carry oxygen on board, the air-breathing Hyper-X vehicles ingest and compress oxygen from the atmosphere using the vehicle airframe. Scramjets could potentially increase payload capacity on future vehicles since no onboard supply of oxidizer would be required.

- Pegasus rocket is an air-launched rocket that delivers payloads to low earth orbit.

Since 1990, the three-stage Pegasus rocket has conducted 30 launches and placed over 70 satellites into orbit from six separate sites worldwide.

The Hyper-X Launch Vehicle represents an application of Pegasus technology envisioned by NASA and Orbital since the development of Pegasus in the late 1980's. In addition to space launch, Pegasus is ideally suited to hypersonic research and development.


Scramjet Propulsion (Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, Vol 189) by E. T. Curran, S. N. B. Murthy

Hypersonic Airbreathing Propulsion/Book and Disk (Aiaa Education) by William H. Heiser, David T. Pratt, Daniel H. Daley, Unmeel B. Mehta

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Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014