US military conducts launch of hypersonic experiments

Pentagon says close to a dozen hypersonic weapon tests were successful

The Nasa Mission Operations Control Centre at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, where the rocket was launched. Reuters
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The US Navy and Army this week launched a rocket in coastal Virginia with the aim of running about a dozen hypersonic weapon experiments to help develop the new class of military equipment, the Pentagon said.

The Department of Defence added that the test was successful.

Sandia National Laboratories ran the test from Nasa's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, which evaluated hypersonic weapon communications and navigation equipment as well as advanced materials to test whether they could withstand the heat of a “realistic hypersonic environment”, a Navy statement said.

Hypersonic glide vehicles are launched from a rocket in the upper atmosphere before gliding to a target at speeds of more than five times the speed of sound, or about 6,200 kilometres per hour.

The US Department of Defence launches a sounding rocket from Nasa's launch range at Wallops Flight Facility carrying hypersonic weapon experiments. Reuters

The US and its global rivals have picked up the pace in the race to build hypersonic weapons — the next generation of arms that rob adversaries of reaction time and traditional defeat mechanisms.

To speed the development, the Pentagon launched these experiments and prototypes using a sounding rocket, a smaller and therefore cheaper test vehicle, to fill a critical gap between ground testing and full-system flight testing.

The test comes as Russia makes rapid advances in its own hypersonic missile programme.

Wednesday's test was intended to validate future aspects of the US Navy's Conventional Prompt Strike and the Army's Long Range Hypersonic Weapon.

Glide bodies are different from their air-breathing hypersonic weapon cousins, which use scramjet engine technology and the vehicle's high speed to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion to enable sustained flight at hypersonic speeds.

Companies such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies are working to develop US hypersonic weapons capability.

Updated: October 27, 2022, 5:47 PM