NASA makes new push on hypersonic technology

NASA’s efforts to develop a new generation of hypersonic rockets is getting a boost from the U.S. military, as it continues its quest to find ways to launch small satellites into orbit with the help of next-generation rockets.

“The largest operational fleet of United Launch Alliance launch vehicles are ready to quickly be the launch vehicles of choice for the nation’s next-generation hypersonic concepts and missions,” ULA spokesman John Schultz said in a statement to

As previously reported, the military’s test was part of a 24-hour period that included multiple hypersonic scramjet (high-speed combustion ramjet) glide tests of two different SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.

The tests were part of a program known as New Horizons II, which seeks to develop more sophisticated rockets than those currently being used by SpaceX and Orbital ATK to launch payloads into orbit. The program’s goal is to reduce rocket travel time by at least 500 miles.

The New Horizons II program is a collaborative effort of two joint efforts by the Air Force, NASA and SpaceX — the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Technology Center of the National Institute of Aerospace, and the Missile Defense Agency.

Schultz said the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 3 is scheduled to launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Monday, March 26 at 10:41 a.m. Pacific Time. It will be accompanied by six uncrewed United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets.

Only two of the six rocket motors on the Atlas V rockets will be used to send the X-37B to space, where the spacecraft will be tested in microgravity.

“Once mission objectives are achieved, the spacecraft will continue to orbit on autopilot, the flight will be characterized, and a summary of the test mission will be published,” Schultz said.

The reusable, 5,000-pound X-37B was assembled by Boeing in 2009 and launched in 2010 on its first mission, a secret mission that lasted 225 days. The test aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft ended in an inadvertent release of a small amount of debris in 2015. The second X-37B X-37B, carried by an Atlas V rocket, successfully landed in November 2016 at Vandenberg.

X-37B program officials also disclosed the flight aboard an Atlas V rocket will consist of two stages, with a second stage that uses a high-powered aerodynamic combustion ramjet to propel the vehicle to Mach 5. The X-37B has performed and completed three missions before its most recent landing, where it touched down at Vandenberg on May 17, 2017.

Schultz said the first space mission of the X-37B X-37B OTV 3 will launch from Cape Canaveral on March 26 and end its mission on May 4.

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