Published April 26, 2010
It was a watershed week for conspiracy theorists, with President Barack Obama throwing his support behind several major upgrades to the country's rapid-response strike capability.
On the heels of the top-secret X37-B launch, the U.S. Air Force launched an even more secret experimental hypersonic glider able to travel more than 4,000 miles in 30 minutes from launch. The craft -- dubbed the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 -- was launched via a Minotaur 4-Lite rocket Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Air Force announced.
Conspiracy theorists have long reported on a secret project known as "Aurora" -- a hypersonic spy plane capable of speeds up to Mach 6 (3,700 mph). The Falcon seems to be the culmination of that project, but it's capable of much, much more, according to a fact sheet from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The sheet explains that once the vehicle accelerates into the upper atmosphere, it is designed to separate from its booster and glide across the Pacific at around 13,000 mph, or nearly Mach 20.
The test vehicle launched last week reached Mach 5 on launch, and was designed to crash and sink into the sea and sink near Kwajalein Atoll, 2,000 miles south-west of Hawaii, 30 minutes later and 4,000 miles from the launch site.
But in a statement released Friday night, DARPA said that while “the launch vehicle executed first-of-its-kind energy management maneuvers, clamshell payload fairing release and HTV-2 deployment,” all wasn't perfect with the superfast craft. “Approximately 9 minutes into the mission, telemetry assets experienced a loss of signal from the HTV-2. An engineering team is reviewing available data to understand this event.”
The DARPA press release did not specify whether any of the test maneuvers were completed by the Lockheed Martin built craft before controllers lost communications with the craft, the site adds.
In the real world, Project Aurora is called the "Prompt Global Strike (PGS) program" and it's actually part of the President's solution to maintaining peace in non-nuclear times. President Obama signed a treaty with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev last week that put both countries on the path to full nuclear disarmament.
However, the U.S. part of the agreement states that the country can replace every decommissioned nuclear weapon with a PGS missile. Within a week of the treaty being signed, Obama welcomed in the technology to make it possible.
And overnight, Obama announced he would support deploying a new class of hypersonic missiles that could hit any target on Earth within an hour.
Depending on the version the Pentagon chooses, the warhead would either split into dozens of lethal fragments in the final seconds of its flight or simply smash into its target, relying on devastating kinetic energy to destroy anything in its path reports the Times of London. As a precision weapon its effects would be quite different from the mass destruction inflicted by nuclear warheads delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach 13,400 mph.
The glider's speeds of 3,600 mph are more than seven times faster than the Tomahawk guided missiles that were too slow to kill Osama bin Laden at an Afghanistan training camp in 1998. The White House has requested almost $250 million for research into hypersonic technologies which harness shock waves generated by a fast-moving missile to increase its speed further.
News.com.au contributed to this story.