The Pentagon’s test launch of two unmanned space vehicles this week have highlighted the efforts being made by the United States to develop a new generation of high-altitude weapon systems.
The United States Air Force (USAF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) test launched a space plane – the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), known as the Falcon, at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
One part of the program aims to develop a reusable, rapid-strike Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle (HCV), and the other is for the development of a launch system capable of accelerating a HCV to cruise speeds, as well as launching small satellites into Earth orbit.
Defense analysts believe that the Falcon is part of the Pentagon’s effort to develop the capability to strike anywhere in the world with a conventional warhead in less than an hour – known as Conventional Prompt Global Strike.
Meanwhile, the USAF’s secretive X-37B robotic space plane took off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a mystery mission that is expected to take months testing new spacecraft
The X-37 is an unpiloted demonstration spaceplane built by Boeing Phantom Works that is intended to test future launch technologies while in orbit and during atmospheric re-entry.
“The X-37B has been in development for more than 10 years and had a tumultuous history. So, it’s great to see the X37 finally get to the launchpad and get into space,” The Washington Times quoted Gary Payton, U.S. Air Force Deputy Under Secretary for Space Programs, as saying.
The spacecraft will be placed into low Earth orbit for testing, following which it will be de-orbited for landing.