UPDATE: Friday August 12 2011
The US military has lost contact with an unmanned hypersonic aircraft, designed to be able to reach anywhere in the world in less than an hour.
The Falcon HTV-2 aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, about nine minutes after it was launched by the US military from a base in California.
It was the military’s second unsuccessful test flight.
Engineers had hoped the craft would reach a top speed of 13,000mph during flight.
The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is gearing up to launch an unmanned aircraft from a rocket to the edge of space this afternoon – which, if successful, will fly within the atmosphere at 20-times the speed of sound.
The arrow-shaped ‘Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV) 2’ – the fastest aircraft ever built – is expected to reach a top speed of about 13,000mph, which could cover the distance between London to Sydney in under an hour.
The Falcon HTV-2, which will be attached to a rocket, is due to launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3pm (BST) today.
After launch, if all goes to plan the aircraft will separate from the rocket and fall back to earth, before levelling out and shooting across the earth at 20-times the speed of sound (Mach 20).
It is part of a military experiment to see if an aircraft can be built that could potentially deliver a bomb to any part of the world in less than an hour.
This is the second test flight for the Falcon HTV-2. Its first flight was aborted nine minutes after launch when the aircraft’s onboard computer detected an anomaly.
DARPA said the test was still considered useful in testing the aerodynamics of the aircraft, which was able to fly for 139 seconds at Mach 22 (16,700mph).
Concorde, although a passenger jet, travelled at Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound.
Today’s launch of the Falcon will test how the aircraft will cope with extreme temperatures and the navigation systems used to control its route.
Watch the YouTube video showing how the test flight will work:
Hypersonic travel: The future of commercial aviation?
While there may be no chance of the technology being used to operate commercial airliners, recent advancements in technology have raised hope that hypersonic travel might one day be possible on civilian aircraft.
At this year’s Paris Air Show, EADS – the European aeronautic and defence firm which owns Airbus – unveiled radical plans to build a hypersonic passenger plane that could transport up to 100 passengers from a London to Sydney in three hours.
EADS believes the plane – ‘zero emission hypersonic transportation’ (ZEHST) – could reach speeds of 3,125mph – more than four times the speed of sound (Mach 4).
And UK- based aerospace company HyperMach recently shared its vision to launch ‘SonicStar’: a 20-seat supersonic jet for the business market, with flights starting in June 2021.
Follow the Falcon’s progress by following DARPA on twitter @DARPA_News.