Scramjet Demonstrator Flies At Mach 5

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A hypersonic scramjet-powered vehicle was launched from the ground at the Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, Dec. 10. The launch was the first-ever free flight of a scramjet-powered vehicle using conventional liquid hydrocarbon jet fuel, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) said in a news release last week. ATK, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research are collaborating on the project. The hypersonic vehicle was just under 9 feet long and about 11 inches in diameter. It integrated a scramjet engine into a missile configuration. After separating from its booster rocket at more than 60,000 feet, the scramjet engine ignited and propelled the vehicle at approximately 5,300 feet per second -- or Mach 5.5 -- for about 15 seconds while engineering data was captured via on-board sensors and tracking radars. The vehicle continued in stable flight mode until it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The ground-launched flight test demonstrated a viable and cost-effective flight-test method for future hypersonic scramjet initiatives, ATK said. ATK previously built the hydrogen-fueled X-43A scramjet, the world-record holder for powered flights, which obtained a top speed of nearly Mach 10 in a November 2004 flight test.