Encyclopedia Astronautica

X-43 Hyper-X
Credit: NASA
American spaceplane. Study 1997. NASA's X-43 Hyper-X program demonstrated an integrated hypersonic scramjet engine briefly at Mach 10 on its third and final flight.

However the program was delayed for three years after the first launch failed due to miscalculation of maximum aerodynamic loads during acceleration to scramjet ignition speed.

The X-43A fuselage formed a critical elements of the engine, with the forebody acting as the intake for the airflow and the aft section serving as the nozzle. The Hyper-X program was a joint NASA Dryden/NASA Langley conducted under NASA's Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprise. NASA Langley had overall management of the Hyper-X program and led the technology development effort. Dryden's primary responsibility was to fly three unpiloted X-43A research vehicles to help prove both the engine technologies, the hypersonic design tools and the hypersonic test facilities developed at Langley.

The first flight mission profile was for NASA Dryden's NB-52 aircraft to climb to 7600 m and release the modified Pegasus launch vehicle. For each flight the booster accelerated the X-43A research vehicle to the test conditions (Mach 7 or 10) at approximately 30 km altitude, where it separated from the booster and then fly under its own power and preprogrammed control. Flights of the X-43A originated from the Dryden/Edwards Air Force Base area, and the missions occurred within the Western Sea Range off the coast of California.

The B-52 Dryden used to carry the X-43A and launch vehicle to test altitude was the oldest B-52 on flying status. The aircraft, on loan from the U.S. Air Force, had been used on some of the most important projects in aerospace history. It was one of two B-52s used to air launch the three X-15 hypersonic aircraft for research flights. It also was used to drop test the various wingless lifting bodies, which contributed to the development of the Space Shuttle. In addition, the B-52 was part of the original flight tests of the Pegasus booster. .

On Aug. 11, 1998, the first piece of hardware was delivered to NASA - a scramjet engine used for a series of ground tests in NASA Langley's 2.4-m-high Temperature Tunnel. This engine could later be used for flight if necessary.

Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., designed and built three Pegasus-derivative launch vehicles for the series of X-43A vehicles, a process supervised by Dryden. A successful critical design review for the launch vehicle was held at Orbital's Chandler, Ariz., facility in December 1997.

NASA selected MicroCraft Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn., in March 1997 to fabricate the unpiloted research aircraft for the flight research missions, two flights at Mach 7 and one at Mach 10 beginning in 2000. Micro-Craft was aided by Boeing, which was responsible for designing the research vehicle, developing flight control laws and providing the thermal protection system; GASL Inc., which built the scramjet engines and their fuel systems and providing instrumentation for the vehicles; and Accurate Automation, Chatanooga, Tenn.

Hyper-X Vehicle Specifications

Hyper-X Launch Vehicle

  • Length: 49 ft / 14.9 m
  • Diameter: 50 in / 1.27 m
  • Wingspan: 22 ft / 6.7 m
  • Weight (including X-43A): 37,300 lbs / 16,900 kg
  • Propulsion: Alliant Techsystems Orion 50S solid rocket motor with 109,000 lbs / 484 kN average thrust
  • Airframe: Composite with aluminum ballast/avionics module
  • Control System: Electromechanically actuated fins
  • Avionics System: GPS/INS navigation, 32-bit flight computer with RS-422 digital serial datalinks, Orbital MACH power and ordnance switching, 2 Mbits/sec PCM data system
  • Performance: Separation conditions between Mach 7 and 10 at 95,000 to 110,000 ft (29 km to 34 km)

X-43A Research Vehicle

  • Length: 12 ft / 3.66 m
  • Wingspan: 5 ft / 1.52 m
  • Weight: Approx. 3,000 lbs / 1400 kg
  • Propulsion: Dual-mode ramjet/scramjet
  • Downlink: S-band (approx. 700 parameters measured and transmitted)

AKA: Hyper-X.
Gross mass: 1,000 kg (2,200 lb).
Height: 3.66 m (12.00 ft).

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
See also
Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • NASA American agency overseeing development of rockets and spacecraft. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA, USA. More...

  • NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Web Site, Web Address when accessed: here.
  • NASA Report, NASA Factsheet FS-040-DFRC X-43 Hyper-X, Web Address when accessed: here.

X-43 Chronology

1997 During the Year - .
  • X-43 Hyper-X contracted - . Nation: USA. Spacecraft: X-43. Summary: NASA selected MicroCraft Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn., in March 1997 to fabricate the unpiloted research aircraft for the flight research missions, two flights at Mach 7 and one at Mach 10 beginning in 2000..

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