Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Here are some additional stories describing today’s test flight of the Hypersonic Test Vehicle.
- Los Angeles Times: Falcon hypersonic vehicle test flight fails
- Aviation Week: Telemetry Lost During Hypersonic Test Flight
- DARPA: HTV-2 collects unique data during several phases of second flight
I have several questions, and no answers:
- What makes this vehicle so different from the shuttle or other lifting body vehicles — all successfully tested and flown from both suborbital and orbital heights — to require these test flights? Granted, the shuttle was manned while the HTV is not. Still, the shuttle was often landed using its computers, with the pilots merely standing by should they be needed.
- If the HTV isn’t very different from earlier lifting body spacecraft, why the failures? This is proven technology. It shouldn’t be so hard to build an unmanned glider capable of maneuvering at hypersonic speeds. They were even able to do this with the Apollo capsules.
- If the HTV is different from previous orbital gliders, what are the differences? I noticed that all the above stories are very circumspect about whether the HTV is powered during its flight. DARPA describes the main section of the flight plan as the glide stage, but does not say if the vehicle is actually powered in any way. The text implies it is merely gliding, but that is merely implied and might not be true. And if it is powered, how is it powered? Is this also a test of ramjet technology, as was the case with the earlier test flight of the X-51?
I find myself a bit puzzled by this test program, and am even beginning to wonder if it might be a bit of a boondoggle.