By Tom Yamachika, Special to CNN • Updated 3rd September 2018
HONOLULU (CNN) — The US military is using private spaceflight companies to test hypersonic technologies for defense and intelligence missions.
The US Air Force and the US Navy conducted three NASA-supported suborbital rocket tests on Friday at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The rocket test serves as a major milestone in the Air Force’s military hypersonic research and development program — primarily to conduct critical testing on both hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic scramjet engines.
A scramjet engine combines many airflow-controlling technologies to sustain high performance.
“We hope this milestone will give our team the confidence and reassurance they need to proceed with the final development, testing and qualification stages of these projects,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Air Force Space Command and Global Strike Command Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, Requirements and Capabilities, in a statement.
The US Navy said its testing also has military and intelligence applications.
“The increased availability of hypersonic propulsion allows us to gather information in more rapid ways with a smaller number of targets that require us to strike quickly,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in a statement.
The Air Force said the first test flight involved the launch of three high-altitude balloons that carry hypersonic engines for suborbital experiments that develop concepts for future space and hypersonic launches.
The second test flight put a three-stage rocket on a near vertical trajectory and kicked out the first stage into a hypersonic trajectory as intended, while the third test tried to land back at the Wallops Flight Facility following its normal test trajectory.
“We fully understand the mathematics we must perform to ensure that our hypersonic rockets do not pose a safety risk to personnel or property in the area or to our launch sites,” said Wallops Flight Facility Director James Loftis.
There is no timeline for additional tests.