WASHINGTON — Three hypersonic rockets were launched Tuesday from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, kicking off what the military is calling “a major milestone” in developing the technologies needed to develop hypersonic flight.
In its initial stage, the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory test vehicle, or “Owl” was split into two crafts: “I-2” and “I-3,” the Airmen said in a statement. Each craft was equipped with state-of-the-art technology developed for hypersonic flight.
“I-2” reached an altitude of about 54 miles and was fueled with a commercial hydrogen fuel. The ionized exhaust from the craft separated, followed by the deployment of the two hypersonic fins for the ionization and flight control system. The test was deemed successful.
I-3 is a more powerful craft. It had to be fueled with liquid oxygen, and was powered by six solid rocket boosters. The hypersonic booster “was released directly by the missile … and glided to a runway landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base,” the Airmen said.
Overall, the tests were conducted to test guidance, navigation and control for hypersonic flight, a capability that could one day be used to improve military capabilities, the Air Force said. A hypersonic weapon would be able to travel from Washington, D.C., to London in under three hours.
Owl 2 and the booster extended a “noticeable period of time over flight” in their first flight test, the Airmen said.
“The vehicle demonstrated delivery of an upper stage propulsion cargo using solid booster engines, which we believe are a significant capability for hypersonic flight. The altitude climbed by Hawk 2 was greater than the altitude attained by Hawk 1, demonstrating hypersonic glide capability, and, as part of the demonstration, ejected the solid booster rocket engine,” the Airmen said.
Hawk-2 was destroyed by a GPS ballistic impact test in 2005.
Both rockets developed for Owl-2 were funded by the Pentagon’s Hypersonic Technology Office and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Air Force is conducting a program-wide assessment to analyze the results of this test, and will utilize the lessons learned to complete the next program phase, the Airmen said.
The next test of Owl-3 is scheduled to be conducted later this month. Air Force officials hope to conduct a fully hypersonic flight of the rocket by the end of this year.