The U.S. military launched three hypersonic rockets in a test of new weapon systems, including one developed by Boeing for both defense and the aerospace industry, officials said Monday.
The test of the hypersonic X-51A Waverider model took place July 15 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where U.S. Pacific Command and Boeing operate the Pacific Missile Range Facility. U.S. Navy cruisers USS John Paul Jones and USS Lake Erie, which were providing tracking and tracking-signal communications, were deployed by a United States Air Force B-52 Stratofortress as part of the test, Pmnt said.
The X-51A was carried aloft under a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, then released near Kwajalein Atoll, according to the news release. The vehicle flew for three minutes before re-entering the atmosphere, reaching a top speed of 5,890 mph. Officials measured the rate of hypersonic flight, called Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.
“The test was a success because the suborbital vehicle achieved all objectives, demonstrated the spacecraft was capable of moving from low-to-medium altitude to high-altitude and generated the full amount of data necessary to validate all the mission parameters,” said Lt. Cmdr. Billy Glover, a spokesman for Pacific Command, in a news release.
Boeing won a contract to build the X-51A in 2010 for an estimated $300 million. It has had several upgrades since then, including increased thrust and new electronics. A civilian pilot — retired Marine Corps Col. Pete Siebold — flew one of two X-51A vehicles, which was the first demonstration test of the hypersonic craft designed to carry an expendable warhead.
According to Pmnt, the government must now decide how to use the technology following the test.
The flight flew a hybrid ramjet engine with advanced structural systems, capable of deploying a decelerator. The vehicle was designed to go up to Mach 20, but it reentered the atmosphere at about Mach five.
Watch the live stream from Pacific Command of the hypersonic test here.
— Gina Harkins can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.