NASA's X-43 Hypersonic Drone, Capable of Reaching Mach 7

NASA's X-43 Hypersonic Drone, Capable of Reaching Mach 7
Artist's concept of the X-43A NASA

International Military - The US is said to be lagging behind in its domestic hypersonic weapons development. This is because China first tried the experimental project. In fact, China recently claimed to have developed a heat-seeking hypersonic missile capable of hitting a car moving at a speed of 6,174 km/h or five times the speed of sound.

The research team, led by Yang Xiaogang of the PLA Rocket Force University of Engineering in Xian, claims to have made "important progress". This claim comes months after Chinese scientists announced that they had produced a next-generation hypersonic weapon with advances in infrared tracking.

 Meanwhile, the US recently conducted a successful hypersonic missile test of its B-52H bomber. The US Air Force announced that its Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missile was successfully tested. Currently, only China and Russia have operational hypersonic weapons.

 Last year, China carried out a hypersonic test in which the missile flew around the world at five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5. It was NASA's X-43, which was developed as part of the Hyper-X program in the late 1990s.

The goal of the Hyper-X project is to validate key flight propulsion and related technologies for air-breathing hypersonic aircraft. The first two X-43 test vehicles were produced to fly at Mach 7.

 While the third X-43 was even able to reach speeds of almost Mach 10, at Mach 9.6. The X-43A is essentially a small pilotless test vehicle measuring over 3.7 m (12 ft) in length. It features a lift body design, in which the fuselage is such that it provides significant lift for flight, rather than relying on the wings. The aircraft weighs approximately 1,400 kg (3,000 lb).

In addition, the test aircraft were designed to be fully controllable in high-speed flight, even while gliding without propulsion. Launching from, the X-43A's control system provides highly precise aerodynamic control. It aims to handle rapid changes in force and movement at hypersonic speeds.

The X-43A is also powered by a supersonic combustion ramjet engine (scramjet) developed by ATK, which uses hydrogen gas as fuel. The Scramjet engine provides design advantages in the smaller size, simplicity, and affordability of a reusable vehicle.

 A scramjet engine is an air-breathing engine and has far fewer moving parts than a traditional turbojet engine. Also, scramjet engines do not require an oxidizer to be brought on board for combustion, as conventional rocket engines do.

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