A NASA X-43A hypersonic unpiloted research aircraft was destroyed
today while on a flight originating from the Dryden Flight Research
Center, Edwards, Calif.

Following pre-launch countdown and separation from the B-52, a
malfunction occurred five seconds in to the boost phase that caused
the Hyper-X stack (Hyper-X vehicle and booster) to depart from
controlled flight. The debris impacted within the pre-cleared range
impact area in the Pacific Ocean.

The mishap occurred at 1:45 p.m. PDT.

There was no damage to property on the ground, and there were no
injuries and no damage to the carrier aircraft. A team of qualified
personnel is being formed to investigate the cause of the mishap.

This mission was the first of three flights to demonstrate an
airframe-integrated, “air-breathing” propulsion system design called
a scramjet, which so far has only been tested in ground facilities,
such as wind tunnels.

A ramjet operates by subsonic combustion of fuel in a stream of air
compressed by the forward speed of the aircraft itself, as opposed to
a jet engine where a compressor section compresses the air. The
scramjet is a ramjet engine in which the airflow through the whole
engine remains supersonic. The fuel for the X-43A is hydrogen.

Unlike a rocket that must carry its own oxygen for combustion, an
air-breathing engine scoops oxygen from the atmosphere. Without the
need to carry oxygen, an air-breathing engine powered vehicle can
carry more payload than a rocket-powered propulsion vehicle. The X-43
will use the body of the aircraft to form critical elements of the
engine with the forebody acting as the intake for the airflow and
using the aft section as the nozzle.

The X-43A is a 12-foot-long, unpiloted research vehicle. The booster
accelerates the X-43A until it separates at a predetermined altitude
and velocity to fly a pre-programmed trajectory. Two more research
flights are planned–one flight at Mach 7 and one at Mach 10.
Following the separation, the X-43A will conduct aerodynamic and
propulsion experiments until it impacts into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., has overall management of
the program and leads the technology effort. NASA Dryden Flight
Research Center is the lead for both flight operations and flight
research. Dryden engineers are working closely with their colleagues
from Langley and industry.