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NASA delays hypersonic test flight

An electronic glitch forced NASA to postpone Monday's scheduled launch of its record-setting X-43A hypersonic plane.
An artist's conception shows the X-43A hypersonic plane in flight. The test plane measures only 5 feet wide and 12 feet long.
An artist's conception shows the X-43A hypersonic plane in flight. The test plane measures only 5 feet wide and 12 feet long.NASA
/ Source: Reuters

After an apparent electronic glitch, NASA officials on Monday postponed for a day the launch of an unmanned experimental jet that would have attempted to shoot out across the Pacific Ocean at a record speed of more than 7,000 mph (11,265 kilometers per hour).

The X-43A aircraft was to have been carried aloft by a larger jet from Edwards Air Force Base north of Los Angeles and set on its way by a booster rocket over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA officials said they would try again to launch the craft sometime Tuesday. Troubleshooting on the electronics delayed the flight to the point where it risked missing its narrow launch window for the day, officials said.

“All indications are now that we should be go for tomorrow,” Griff Corpening, X-43A chief engineer, said during a NASA TV broadcast.

The test flight will be the final of three planned launches for the X-43A jet and its supersonic “scramjet” engine. A scramjet takes in oxygen from the air for combustion rather than carrying liquid oxygen in a tank like a conventional rocket.

Scramjet technology, NASA has said, could allow cheaper and safer flights into the upper atmosphere and into orbit around Earth, with smaller and lighter craft.

NASA plans for the X-43A flight to reach speeds of Mach 10, or about 7,000 mph, which the agency said would be a world record for an air-breathing, jet-powered aircraft.

The $230 million program’s testing phase got off to a rough start in June 2001 when the first X-43A and its booster rocket had to be destroyed in midflight by ground controllers. But the second attempt, in March of this year, successfully reached Mach 7.

After a few seconds of jet operation, the final X-43A will enter into a glide, traveling about 850 miles (1,368 kilometers) before splashing down into the ocean, NASA said. The agency has no plans to recover the craft, which has been standard procedure with the scramjet tests.