Juan Pablo Spinetto, CNN • Updated 11th November 2020
( CNN ) — The US military tested an experimental hypersonic strike vehicle of its own on Friday.
The Northrop Grumman-built X-51A Waverider — touted as the first hypersonic vehicle to reach suborbital speeds, exceeding mach 5 — reached a top speed of Mach 5.2, researchers said in a video. The vehicle will continue to be tested at Area 51, northwest of Los Angeles.
The X-51A completed two-and-a-half minutes of flight. Its second stage stopped the vehicle short.
“These results validate that advanced hypersonic technology can reach Mach 5 or more — providing a capability to sustain an attack against a range of targets in anywhere in the world in less than an hour,” the Air Force added in a statement.
Hypersonic vehicles travel at faster than the speed of sound and would be able to reach places such as North Korea within minutes.
“Today’s test represents a new era of Air Force hypersonics,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Masciola, project manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory, in a statement. “I’ve been at AFRL for 25 years and this is the most significant example of hypersonic and hypersonic attack innovation that I have seen.”
The X-51A is designed to detect and destroy targets hundreds of miles away.
“Based on the successful test today, we can now build upon this technology with increased precision to enable superior operational performance in and after an attack in the planned future international space station launch vehicles, military manned and unmanned aircraft, and ships,” Masciola said.
The Air Force describes hypersonic air vehicles as systems that travel more than five times the speed of sound and make it possible to cover the entire earth in less than an hour.
The military has been developing hypersonic vehicles for decades. A 20-year-old test failed.
In 1990, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration successfully built a 24-foot long experimental vehicle that blasted 100,000 pounds of propellant on a one-mile loop through the atmosphere. But that test was aborted with 24 seconds left in the flight when a safety test rocket jammed. The vehicle flew for an additional 60 seconds before completing the experiment.