Hypersonic X-60A Testbed Passes Ground Test Milestone

Credit: Generation Orbit Launch Services

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) X-60A hypersonic flying testbed program has moved a step closer to initial flight tests following the completion of integrated vehicle propulsion system verification work at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida.

In development by Generation Orbit Launch Services under an AFRL small business innovation initiative, the X-60A is an air-launched liquid oxygen/kerosene-powered rocket designed to test payloads at hypersonic speeds between Mach 5 and 8. The expendable vehicle, which will be dropped from a modified Gulfstream business aircraft, is configured with wings for maneuverability and an onboard flight telemetry system for data capture.

Ground testing in Florida included cold flow and hot-fire runs of the vehicle’s Hadley liquid rocket engine, which was developed by X-60A team member Ursa Major Technologies. “Flight-like hardware was tested using flight-like operational procedures. The test runs covered full-duration burns, engine gimbaling for thrust vector control, and system throttling,” AFRL says, adding that initial flight tests are planned for later this year.

The X-60A is designed to flight-test hypersonic technologies ranging from airbreathing propulsion systems and advanced materials to vehicle subsystems. Flight tests also will be conducted from Cecil Spaceport.

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.