July 19, 2021
Published in Aerospace Testing International
Written by Ben Sampson
A re-evaluation of hypersonic weapons and vehicles is prompting investment and innovation in test instrumentation and data acquisition.
Flying Mach 5 is an old idea. During the 1950s and 1960s US hypersonic flight research programs such as the X-15 rocket plane were the first to test the concept. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which re-enter the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds were also developed around the same time.
During the decades since then several hypersonic vehicles have been developed for research, then shelved by engineers. But in the last five years there has been a resurgence in interest inflying faster than 3,000mph (4,800km/h) primarily in the USA, Russia and China.
For the first time commercial companies, such as UK-based Reaction Engines have made solid progress developing air-breathing engines will enable "spaceplanes" to fly through the atmosphere and above at hypersonic speeds. However, most actual testing activity for hypersonic flight remains focused on single-use weapons systems.
There are at least 18 military hypersonic projects around the world. It is estimated by market analysts that between 2015 and 2024, the US Government will spend almost US$15 billion developing hypersonic technologies and weapons systems.