NASA, USAF Expand Hypersonic Research Efforts

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NASA and the U.S. Air Force said this week they intend to establish three national hypersonic science centers and they are actively seeking university and industry partners. Hypersonic speed is defined as Mach 5 and faster. "We have identified three critical research areas: air-breathing propulsion, materials and structures, and boundary layer control," said James Pittman, principal investigator for the Hypersonics Project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "These three areas are the biggest hurdles to successful hypersonic flight and low-cost space access using an air-breathing engine." NASA and the Air Force plan to set aside as much as $30 million to fund the centers over five years.

Meanwhile, however, efforts by the Pentagon to get funding to develop a hypersonic airplane called Blackswift have met resistance in Congress, and it's not clear yet how much funding that project will get. According to The Register (a UK newspaper): "Testy senators, having scribbled all over the project's budget with red ink, reportedly said: 'It is not clear ... whether a hypersonic cruise aircraft ... designed for long-range flight and recovery offers unique capability and operational utility.'"