A Pentagon agency reported losing contact with an unmanned hypersonic aircraft over the Pacific Ocean less than an hour after launch today.
The experimental Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, or HTV-2, lifted off today in a Minotaur IV rocket made by Orbital Sciences Corp. at 7:45 a.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is funding the program and overseeing the tests.
Today’s flight was the aircraft’s second and final planned test flight. The first attempt on April 22, 2010, ended nine minutes into flight when the on-board computer detected a glitch and forced a splashdown. Data from the maiden voyage indicated the craft reached speeds of between Mach 17 and Mach 22.
A flight from New York to Los Angeles at such speeds would take less than 12 minutes, according to the Pentagon agency.
The project began in 2003 and cost $320 million, Eric Butterbaugh, a spokesman for the agency, said in an e-mail. The goal is to develop technology that could deliver a non-nuclear warhead anywhere in the world within an hour.
But don’t worry, says Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association. The aircraft is “unlikely to be confused as a nuclear weapon because its trajectory is unlike the Bell-shaped curve of a ballistic missile.” Whew, I feel better.