Minotaur IV
The glider was launched atop a Minotaur IV rocket, like this one. Image: james.gordon6108/Flickr/CC BY

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched an experimental unmanned hypersonic glider Thursday morning. The glider, developed as a possible global defense weapon, was lost nine minutes into the flight.

Response to global threats

The glider, dubbed the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2, was launched atop a Minotaur IV rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast at 7:45 a.m.

The glider was developed as a way to respond to threats around the globe of weapons that could reach speeds of Mach 20 or greater. It was intended to  soar to the edge of the atmosphere, separate from its booster rocket and maneuver at 13,000 mph before intentionally diving into the ocean.

Contact lost

Contact with the glider was lost when it successfully separated from the booster rocket and began flying on its own.

“More than nine minutes of data was collected before an anomaly caused loss of signal,” DARPA said. “Initial indications are that the aircraft impacted the Pacific Ocean along the planned flight path.”

Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, the manager of the research project, said:

“We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

Learning from failure

DARPA said that a team of experts will carefully examine all the data gathered during the mission. The agency says that it had more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems tracking the flight.

Defense analyst John Pike was not disappointed, saying the agency would learn from its failures. “At this early stage of the game, if they did not experience failures, it’s because they’re not trying very hard,” he said.

Second of two missions

This was the second of two missions planned for the Falcon HTV-2. The first mission, launched April 22, 2010, returned nine minutes of data before detecting an anomaly, aborting its mission and plunging into the ocean.


USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2011-08-11-hypersonic-glider-launched_n.htm
Business Week: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9P1VE281.htm
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/11/us-air-force-hypersonic-glider-_n_924445.html?icid=maing-grid7|maing9|dl17|sec1_lnk1|85781

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