WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division, in partnership with Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc., is developing the X-60A vehicle. It is an air-dropped liquid rocket specifically designed for hypersonic flight research.
X-60A program completed its Critical Design Review, a major milestone in the program. The program now moves into the fabrication phase. The initial flight of the vehicle, scheduled in about a year, is based out of Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida.
A key part of the X-60A program is that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration-licensed Cecil Spaceport provides a diversification in hypersonic flight testing to traditional Department of Defense flight test ranges. Additionally, this is the first Air Force Small Business Innovative Research program to receive an experimental “X” designation, in a long line of historical X-planes that includes hypersonic vehicles such as the X-15 and X-51A.
AFRL’s motivation for the X-60A program is to increase the frequency of flight testing while lowering the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies in relevant flight conditions. While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, we must also test those technologies with actual hypersonic flight conditions.
The X-60A rocket vehicle propulsion system is the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5.
X-60A hypersonic research rocket completes critical design review
The US Air Force’s X-60A hypersonic research vehicle completed its critical design review.
The programme is now moving into the fabrication phase, with the initial flight of the vehicle scheduled to take place in about a year at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida, says the USAF. The liquid-rocket powered vehicle is designed to be launched after being dropped from under the belly of a NASA C-20A, a military version of the Gulfstream III business jet.
Rendering of the X-60A launching from a NASA C-20A
The vehicle is being developed by the USAF Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wight-Patterson Air Force Base, in Ohio in partnership with Generation Orbit Launch Services.
AFRL is developing the X-60A to increase the frequency of flight testing at hypersonic speeds, which it hopes will lower the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies. The USAF will continue to use ground test facilities to study hypersonic technology, but says it wants an option to also test under hypersonic flight conditions.
The X-60A’s propulsion system is a Hadley liquid rocket engine, made by Ursa Major Technologies, which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to push the vehicle to speeds above Mach 5.