The U.S. military launched three suborbital rockets this week from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The launch comes after China reportedly tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August.
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In a U.S. Navy news release, the maritime service branch said that the Navy Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) and the Army Hypersonic Program Office (AHPO) had “successfully conducted” a High Operational Tempo for Hypersonics flight campaign on Wednesday evening.
The flight campaign, it said, was executed by Sandia National Laboratories – a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) – and would be used to inform the development of the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) and the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) offensive hypersonic strike capability.
According to the Navy, the test demonstrated advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities and prototype systems.
In addition, the three precision sounding rocket launches contained hypersonic experiments including “CPS, AHPO, the Joint Hypersonic Transition Office, SNL, Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory, MITRE, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and several defense contractors.”
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The tests, the Navy noted, fill a “critical gap between ground testing and full system flight testing” during weapon system development, with launches allowing for “frequent and regular flight testing opportunities to support rapid maturation of offensive and defensive hypersonic technologies.”
“This test is a vital step in the development of a Navy-designed common hypersonic missile, consisting of a Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB) and booster, which will be fielded by both the Navy and Army with individual weapon systems and launchers tailored for launch from sea or land. The Department of Defense (DoD) successfully tested the CHGB on March 20, 2020. The Navy and Army will continue to work in close collaboration to leverage joint testing opportunities,” it wrote.
The Navy also highlighted that delivering hypersonic weapons is one of the Department of Defense’s “highest priorities” and that the department is working with industry, governmental national laboratories and academia to “field hypersonic warfighting capability in the early-to mid-2020s” – including hypersonic weapons that are capable of flying at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound.
In its own post, NASA wrote that the next rocket launch from Wallops is a NASA sounding rocket mission targeted for January 2022.
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The launches were visible from the Chesapeake Bay region, the administration pointed out.
According to Space.com, more than 16,000 sounding rockets – which are launched at shallow trajectories and have similar technology to missiles – have taken off from the Wallops Flight Facility since it was opened in 1945.