Aircraft

Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 crashes on second test flight

Falcon Hypersonic Technology V...
The HTV-2 is designed to travel at speeds of Mach 20
The HTV-2 is designed to travel at speeds of Mach 20
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The HTV-2 launches aboard a Minotaur IV rocket
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The HTV-2 launches aboard a Minotaur IV rocket
The HTV-2 is designed to travel at speeds of Mach 20
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The HTV-2 is designed to travel at speeds of Mach 20

On Thursday, DARPA's unmanned Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 (HTV-2) was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard an Air Force Minotaur IV rocket, which inserted the aircraft into the desired trajectory. After separation from the rocket, the vehicle transitioned to Mach 20 (approximately 13,000 mph/21,000 km/h) aerodynamic flight but a little after nine minutes of monitored flight the signal from the vehicle was lost with initial indications that the second test flight has ended in the same way as the first - with a crash into the Pacific Ocean.

A technology demonstrator and data-gathering platform, the ultimate goal of the HTV-2 aircraft is the capability to fly anywhere in the world in under 60 minutes by gliding through the Earth's atmosphere at incredibly high speeds, which cause the aircraft to experience temperatures in excess of 3,500°F (1,927°C). The aircraft's maiden flight in April 2010 followed a similar story to the latest flight with the vehicle providing data for a period of nine minutes before its signal was lost. This caused the vehicle to engage its onboard safety system, which executed a "controlled descent" into the Pacific Ocean.

The HTV-2 launches aboard a Minotaur IV rocket
The HTV-2 launches aboard a Minotaur IV rocket

"We gained valuable data from the first flight, made some adjustments based on the findings of an engineering review board to improve this second flight, and now we're ready to put all of that to the test," said Dave Neyland, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, prior to the second test flight.

In the period between the two test flights, engineers adjusted the vehicle's center of gravity, decreased the angle of attack flown, and made the decision to use an onboard reaction control system to augment the vehicle flaps in an attempt to maintain stability during flight operations. Sophisticated simulations and extensive wind tunnel tests were also carried out but the team admits these ground tests "have not yielded the necessary knowledge" for the vehicle to sustain hypersonic atmospheric flight.

"Here's what we know," said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager and PhD in aerospace engineering. "We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It's vexing; I'm confident there is a solution. We have to find it."

Over the coming weeks the data collected from the second test flight will be analyzed by an independent Engineering Review Board. No announcement has been made regarding a third test flight.

"In the April 2010 test, we obtained four times the amount of data previously available at these speeds. Today more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems were operational. We'll learn. We'll try again. That's what it takes," said DARPA Director Regina Dugan.

On Thursday, DARPA's unmanned Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 (HTV-2) was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard an Air Force Minotaur IV rocket, which inserted the aircraft into the desired trajectory. After separation from the rocket, the vehicle transitioned to Mach 20 (approximately 13,000 mph/21,000 km/h) aerodynamic flight but a little after nine minutes of monitored flight the signal from the vehicle was lost with initial indications that the second test flight has ended in the same way as the first - with a crash into the Pacific Ocean.

A technology demonstrator and data-gathering platform, the ultimate goal of the HTV-2 aircraft is the capability to fly anywhere in the world in under 60 minutes by gliding through the Earth's atmosphere at incredibly high speeds, which cause the aircraft to experience temperatures in excess of 3,500°F (1,927°C). The aircraft's maiden flight in April 2010 followed a similar story to the latest flight with the vehicle providing data for a period of nine minutes before its signal was lost. This caused the vehicle to engage its onboard safety system, which executed a "controlled descent" into the Pacific Ocean.

The HTV-2 launches aboard a Minotaur IV rocket
The HTV-2 launches aboard a Minotaur IV rocket

"We gained valuable data from the first flight, made some adjustments based on the findings of an engineering review board to improve this second flight, and now we're ready to put all of that to the test," said Dave Neyland, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, prior to the second test flight.

In the period between the two test flights, engineers adjusted the vehicle's center of gravity, decreased the angle of attack flown, and made the decision to use an onboard reaction control system to augment the vehicle flaps in an attempt to maintain stability during flight operations. Sophisticated simulations and extensive wind tunnel tests were also carried out but the team admits these ground tests "have not yielded the necessary knowledge" for the vehicle to sustain hypersonic atmospheric flight.

"Here's what we know," said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager and PhD in aerospace engineering. "We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It's vexing; I'm confident there is a solution. We have to find it."

Over the coming weeks the data collected from the second test flight will be analyzed by an independent Engineering Review Board. No announcement has been made regarding a third test flight.

"In the April 2010 test, we obtained four times the amount of data previously available at these speeds. Today more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems were operational. We'll learn. We'll try again. That's what it takes," said DARPA Director Regina Dugan.

28 comments
agulesin
Looks like they need to add a paperclip to the nose, or tweak the wings a bit. Why does this remind me of our folded paper planes?
Neil Larkins
How \'bout some data on the price of this super-expensive toy, especially the cost to we the unwilling taxpayers? I\'m getting damned sick and tired of finding out this garbage is going on and without our input of whether or not we want it. Sounds to me like a super-duper, unmanned stealth-drone bomber that can be launched from here in the U.S. to rain death and destruction down from the skies anywhere in the world on whoever our enlightened leaders say is our enemy. Welcome to the future of endless techno war, folks. Some would call it hell on earth.
GadgetGeek
LOL 'paperclip' good thinking - I just wonder how many hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on this program. I mean who on earth is so important that they need the capacity to be anywhere in less than 60 minutes I mean who cares can we pour those billions into something with a more real world applicability and benefit please, at the rate were going the earth will shake us off long before sub orbital atmospheric aircraft flight ever reaches the mainstream chrimany the Concord was too far advanced for us to manage safety it seems, sheesh, let's keep raising taxes and debt limits so we can keep projects like this funded PU-LEESE!
Robert Volk
At nine minutes of flight time at that speed it would have flown about 1950 miles, about a third of the way to China...
bobmeyerweb
Yes, because it\'s so much better to stop spending on defense and hope no one ever attacks us again. And this is the way R&D works, folks. Complex systems rarely, if ever, work the first time. Sometimes they never work at all. But if we only attempt things we already know how to do, we never advance at all. IF this eventually works, it has the potential to let us drastically reduce the size of our armed forces, because we wouldn\'t need to maintain air bases everywhere in the world.
Dorian Moffat
@ Neil. Total cost to taxpayers so far is about $320 million. Pretty cheap considering what we could do with this kind of technology. Compared to the $1 trillion national healthcare fiasco going on right now, it\'s a drop in the bucket @ 0.00032% of that total waste of money.
sanden
you know, if it wasn\'t for the military you wouldn\'t have things like oh, freedom. Oh yes, cell phones, GPS, and yes even the internet. did i mention freedom? I think experiments like these are awesome, keep it up Big Sammy.
James Davis
Always nice to look at the bright side of things Neil :-) Actually many, many people considered the NASA Space Program of the \"man to the moon\" era and beyond as little more than a weaponization advancement platform. Whatever it was, the outcomes of that program have been astounding and had a significant impact on all aspects of life. Going where we haven\'t, going faster than we ever have; pushing the limits often get us much more than we even imagined going in.
Charles Bosse
Military tech is cool, but I agree that maybe we should maybe cut back on the R&D while we are paying so much for the troops on the ground in our wars. If we could take the military down to 10% of our budget, that would be cool (or keep it at 20% and find good ways to reduce the other parts of our budget too, like unified national health care and some sensible adjustments to SS). Also, if the military halts R&D in wartime and then brings it back during peacetime, defense contractors will suddenly have an incentive to actually help end wars instead of simply being interested in perpetuating them. Let\'s face it, you wouldn\'t hand tribal leaders RPG\'s if you knew it would cut into other funding for the next 50 years, and if you were really smart, you might even stop selling guns to drug lords.
ffoundry5
Wow, Hypersonic, divergent phugoids.