For the second time in a row, the Pentagon has lost contact with an experimental hypersonic vehicle over the Pacific, just minutes after it was launched from space.
The flight of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 was hotly anticipated in military and aerospace circles. The HTV-2 was supposed to ride on the back of a rocket to the edge of space, where it would separate and scream through the atmosphere at 13,000 mph before splashing into the Pacific Ocean, about 4,100 miles and 30 minutes later.
If the flight worked, it’d show how missiles of this shape and flight pattern could strike targets halfway around the world almost instantly. And that would be a major step forward in the Pentagon’s “Prompt Global Strike” plan to attack foes anywhere on the globe in less than an hour. For now, however, those hopes have been dashed.
“There’s no way you can call it a success. Let’s be blunt about it,” a source familiar with the program tells Danger Room.
In a statement, Darpa tried to put a positive shine on the day’s events. The Minotaur IV rocket “successfully inserted the aircraft into the desired trajectory,” the agency noted. The HTV-2 “transitioned to Mach 20 aerodynamic flight,” and that “more than nine minutes of data was collected before an anomaly caused loss of signal.”
“We’ll learn. We’ll try again. That’s what it takes,” Darpa director Regina Dugan added.
But that may be easier said than done. Before the test, Darpa announced that this would be the last HTV-2 flight that the agency would run. The idea was to transfer control of the program to another branch of the military, most likely the Air Force. Those other branches may not be willing to take on such an expensive program that hasn’t shown much forward momentum, as of yet.