This is rather interesting. I wasn’t aware that research was still being done in this area, but apparently DARPA and the Air Force have been working on hypersonic craft for various purposes under the FALCON (Force Application and Launch from CONtinental United States) banner.
There have been several versions of Falcon craft used in the program since 2003, and much has been learned from the success (or failure depending upon how you look at it) of the tests.
Both of the HTV-2 flights ended with the craft traveling near mach 20. Unfortunately, both flights ended up with the vehicles in pieces. The official term is “flight anomaly.” Apparently, when you travel 20 times the speed of sound, the smallest imperfections become major problems. What happened was described as “a gradual wearing away of the vehicle’s skin as it reached stress tolerance limits was expected. However, larger than anticipated portions of the vehicle’s skin peeled from the aerostructure.”
At those speeds, the HTV-2 could fly anywhere in the world in less than 60 minutes. However, this requires that the craft fly at 13,000 mph, and survive temperatures in excess of 3,500F. Just for reference, steel melts at 2750°F (1510 degrees C).
Although funding for the remaining HTV series was canceled, DARPA and the Air Force have recieved funding for the x-41 Common Aero Vehicle. The current configuration is still secret, but the image above is one concept that is being considered.
Beyond getting me to Australia for the winter in under an hour, and the obvious military applications, these hypersonic craft could easily be used to transport people and equipment into orbit. But, I still want to get to Australia in under an hour.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +