Press Release

Orbital’s Hyper-X Rocket Successfully Launches NASA’s X-43A Hypersonic Scramjet

By SpaceRef Editor
March 27, 2004
Filed under , ,
Orbital’s Hyper-X Rocket Successfully Launches NASA’s X-43A Hypersonic Scramjet

Orbital Sciences
Corporation announced today that its Hyper-X Launch
Vehicle was successfully launched on Saturday, March 27 in a flight
test that originated from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center located
at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Hyper-X launch vehicle uses
a modified first stage rocket motor, originally designed and
flight-proven aboard Orbital’s Pegasus® space launch vehicle, to
accelerate NASA’s X-43A air-breathing scramjet to seven times the
speed of sound.

Unlike vehicles with conventional rocket engines, which carry
oxygen onboard, the air-breathing X-43A scoops and compresses oxygen
from the atmosphere using the shape of the vehicle’s airframe. This
type of propulsion system could potentially increase payload capacity
of future launch vehicles and make high-speed passenger travel
feasible since no onboard supply of oxidizer would be required.

“We are extremely pleased with the results of the Hyper-X flight,”
said Ron Grabe, Executive Vice President and General Manager of
Orbital’s Launch Systems Group. “After several years of detailed
analysis, design upgrades and testing to address the factors that
contributed to the failure of the program’s first flight, it is all
the more gratifying to have carried out this successful flight test.
This flight was one of the most challenging missions Orbital has ever
conducted and demonstrated our ability to take on and tackle the
toughest technical challenges.”

Mr. Grabe added, “Our congratulations go out to NASA and all the
partners on this program who persevered to get it right. We now have
our sights set on a successful third mission to provide even more
critical data to NASA’s research into the field of hypersonic flight
and to extend the flight speed record set today to Mach 10.”

On launch day, flight operations began when NASA’s B-52B carrier
aircraft took off and flew a predetermined flight path to a point 50
miles off the California coast. The Hyper-X vehicle was released from
the B-52 at 2:00 p.m. (PST) approximately 40,000 feet over the Pacific
Ocean. Following rocket motor ignition, the Hyper-X Launch Vehicle,
carrying the X-43A scramjet, accelerated to a velocity of
approximately Mach 7 (or seven times the speed of sound) and reached
an altitude of 95,000 feet. Approximately 90 seconds after ignition,
with the booster at a precise trajectory condition, the Hyper-X launch
vehicle sent commands to the X-43A scramjet, which then separated from
the booster.

Early flight results indicate that the X-43A stabilized, ignited
its scramjet and provided flight data back to NASA engineers.
Following the engine burn, the X-43A executed a number of aerodynamic
maneuvers during its eight-minute coast to an ocean impact
approximately 450 miles from the launch point. After separation, the
spent booster impacted the ocean in a pre-determined splash area.

About Orbital

Orbital develops and manufactures small space and rocket systems
for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s
primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including
low-orbit, geosynchronous and planetary spacecraft for communications,
remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; ground- and
air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile
defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles.
Orbital also offers space-related technical services to government
agencies and develops and builds satellite-based transportation
management systems for public transit agencies and private vehicle
fleet operators.

Note to editors: High-resolution photos of the Hyper-X launch
vehicle, suitable for publication, are available on Orbital’s web site

SpaceRef staff editor.