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NASA has set Saturday, March 27 for the flight of the
experimental X-43A research vehicle. The flight is part of the
Hyper-X program, a research effort to demonstrate alternate
propulsion technologies for access to space and high-speed
flight within the atmosphere.

The flight will provide unique free flight data about
hypersonic (faster than Mach 5) air-breathing engine
technologies that have large potential pay-offs. The unpiloted
12-foot-long vehicle, part aircraft and part spacecraft, will
be dropped from a B-52,aircraft. It will be boosted to nearly
100,000 feet by a rocket and released over the Naval Air
Warfare Center Weapons Division Sea Range over the Pacific
Ocean off the coast of southern Calif. It will fly under its
own power at approximately 5,000 mph.

The $250 million program began with conceptual design and
scramjet engine wind tunnel work in 1996. This is the first
time a non-rocket, air-breathing scramjet engine has powered a
vehicle in flight at hypersonic speeds. No vehicle has ever
flown at hypersonic speeds powered by an air-breathing scramjet

In a scramjet (supersonic-combustion ramjet), the flow of air
through the engine remains supersonic for optimum engine
efficiency and vehicle speed. The rocket boost and subsequent
separation from the rocket to get to the scramjet test
condition have complex elements that must work properly for
mission success. There are few or no moving parts. Achieving
proper ignition and combustion, in a matter of milliseconds,
proved to be an engineering challenge, but NASA is ready to
prove air-breathing scramjets work.

After booster burnout, the 2,800-pound, wedge-shaped research
vehicle will separate and fly on its own to perform a
preprogrammed set of tasks. After an approximate 10 second test
firing of the engine, the X-43A will glide through the
atmosphere conducting a series of aerodynamic maneuvers for up
to six minutes on its way to splashdown.

Researchers believe these technologies may someday offer more
airplane-like operations and other benefits compared to
traditional rocket systems. Rockets provide limited throttle
control and must carry heavy tanks filled with liquid oxygen,
necessary for combustion of fuel. An air breathing engine, like
on the X-43A, scoops oxygen from the air as it flies. The
weight savings could be used to increase payload capacity,
increase range or reduce vehicle size for the same payload.

This is the second flight in the X-43A project. On June 2,
2001, the first X-43A vehicle was lost moments after release
from the B-52. Following booster ignition, the vehicle deviated
from its flight path and was deliberately destroyed. The mishap
investigation concluded there was no single contributing
factor, but the root cause of the problem was identified as the
control system of the booster.

NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and Dryden Flight
Research Center, Edwards, Calif., jointly conduct the Hyper-X

A video clip, images and additional information about the
project are available on the Internet at:

NASA TV will carry the flight and the post-flight news briefing
live. NASA TV is available on AMC-9, transponder 9C, C-Band,
located at 85 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 3880.0
MHz. Polarization is vertical, and audio is monaural at 6.80
MHz. For information about NASA TV on the Internet, visit:

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