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The Hyper-X project is being conducted at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton VA. On 24 March 1997, NASA announced its selection of a team led by MicroCraft, Inc., located in in Hampton VA, to fabricate a series of small, unpiloted experimental vehicles that will fly up to ten times the speed of sound. The five-year project, known as Hyper-X, will demonstrate hypersonic propulsion technologies.

When the Hyper-X flies, it will be the first time a non-rocket engine has powered a vehicle in flight at hypersonic speeds -- speeds above Mach 5, equivalent to about one mile per second or approximately 3,600 miles per hour at sea level. A booster rocket will carry each experimental vehicle to its flight-test speed and altitude, where it will be launched to fly under its own power.

Program managers plan to demonstrate hydrogen-powered, "air- breathing" propulsion systems that could ultimately be applied in vehicle types ranging from hypersonic aircraft to reusable space launchers.

A rocket carries its own oxygen for combustion. An air- breathing vehicle, the experimental Hyper-X, will burn oxygen in the air scooped from the atmosphere. Because of this, air- breathing hypersonic vehicles should carry more payload and/or offer longer range than equivalent rocket-powered systems.

Four flights are planned -- one each at Mach 5 and 7 and two at Mach 10. The Mach 7 flight comes first early in fiscal year 1999. The flight tests will be conducted within the Western Test Range off the coast of southern California.

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Updated Wednesday, April 16, 1997