he U.S. military lost contact with an unmanned hypersonic glider shortly after it launched on a test flight today (Aug. 11) as part of a global strike weapons program to develop vehicles capable of flying at Mach 20 and reach any target in the world in an hour.
Falcon Hypersonic HTV-2 Payload Fairing Jettisoned
The DARPA glider, called the Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California atop a Minotaur 4 rocket at 7:45 a.m. PDT.
According to DARPA updates, the test flight appeared to go well until the glide phase, when monitoring stations lost contact with the HTV-2 vehicle. [Photos: DARPA Hypersonic Glider's Mach 20 Test]
"Range assets have lost telemetry with HTV2," DARPA officials wrote in a Twitter post about 36 minutes after launch.
Monitoring stations further down range of the vehicle's flight path over the Pacific Ocean also did not find the hypersonic HTV-2 glider. The vehicle is designed to crash itself into the ocean at the end of its mission.
"Downrange assets did not reacquire tracking or telemetry. HTV2 has an autonomous flight termination capability," DARPA officials wrote.
Whether the test flight met all of its objecties still remains unclear, but this is the second test flight of the Falcon HTV--2 program that ended prematurely. An April 2010 test flight ended nine minutes into flight, also due to loss of contact.
The HTV-2 vehicle was expected to reach suborbital space, then re-enter Earth's atmosphere and glide at hypersonic speed to demonstrate controllable flight at velocities of around Mach 20, which is about 13,000 mph. At that speed, more than 20 times the speed of sound, a vehicle could fly from New York City to Los Angeles in 12 minutes, DARPA officials said.