Volume: 02, Issue: 20 12/01/2004 
NASA’s B-52B aircraft cruises to a test range over the Pacific Ocean carrying the X-43A vehicle attached to a Pegasus rocket. Photo courtesy NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center.
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Pegasus drops from its B-52B mothership.  Photo courtesy NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center.
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Photo of the Pegasus ignition. Photo courtesy NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Swift Satellite Soars into Space
Space Shuttle Flight Assembly Begins
A Tale of Two Moons
Chat Live with NASA Astronaut
 

Scramjet Shatters Speed Record

NASA's X-43A research vehicle screamed into the record books on Nov. 16, 2004, demonstrating that an air-breathing engine can fly at nearly 10 times the speed of sound. Preliminary data from the scramjet-powered research vehicle show its revolutionary engine worked successfully at approximately Mach 10 (nearly 7,000 mph) as it flew at an altitude of approximately 110,000 feet.

The flight took place in restricted airspace over the Pacific Ocean northwest of Los Angeles. The flight was the last and fastest of three unpiloted tests in NASA's Hyper-X Program. The program's purpose was to explore an alternative to rocket power for space access vehicles.

"This flight is a key milestone and a major step toward the future possibilities for producing boosters for sending large and critical payloads into space in a reliable, safe, inexpensive manner," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "These developments will also help us advance the Vision for Space Exploration, while helping to advance commercial aviation technology."

Supersonic combustion ramjets (scramjets) promise more airplane-like operations for increased affordability, flexibility and safety in ultra high-speed flights within the atmosphere and for the first stage to Earth orbit. The scramjet advantage is once it accelerates to approximately Mach 4 by a conventional jet engine or booster rocket, it can fly at supersonic speeds, possibly as fast as Mach 15, without carrying heavy oxygen tanks, as rockets must.

The design of the engine, which has no moving parts, compresses the air passing through it, so it can ignite the fuel. Another advantage is scramjets can be throttled back and flown more like an airplane, unlike rockets, which tend to produce nearly or full thrust all the time.

"The work of the Langley-Dryden team has been exceptional," said NASA's Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Research, J. Victor Lebacqz. "This shows how much we can accomplish when we manage the risk and work together toward a common goal. NASA has made a tremendous contribution to the body of knowledge in aeronautics with the Hyper-X program, as well as making history."

Following launch of the Pegasus booster rocket from NASA's B-52B launch aircraft at 40,000 feet, the X-43A separated from the booster and accelerated on scramjet power to its intended speed. The mission originated from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and Dryden jointly conduct the Hyper-X Program. NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, Washington, manages it.

For more information about the Hyper-X program and the flights of the X-43A, visit http://www.nasa.gov/missions/research/x43-main.html .

    
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