Engineers to start building first X-60A hypersonic rocket

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The US Air Force’s X-60A, an air-dropped liquid rocket being developed for hypersonic flight research, has completed its critical design review, a major milestone in the program that paves the way for its first test flight in March 2020.

The completion of the review means that the program will move into the fabrication phase. The initial flight of the vehicle is scheduled to take place in 12 months from the Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida.

The X-60A’s propulsion system is the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5.

A key feature of the X-60A program is that the Cecil Spaceport will provide a diversification in hypersonic flight testing to the usual flight test ranges used by the USA’s Department of Defense.

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.

The AFRL is developing the X-60A to increase the frequency of flight testing while lowering the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies. “While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, we must also test those technologies with actual hypersonic flight conditions,” said the AFRL.

The X60A is being developed by engineers from the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division, in partnership with aerospace firm Generation Orbit Launch Services.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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