SHEFEX vehicle lost in North Sea

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SHEFEX reached Mach 7

shefexGerman aerospace centre DLR’s hypersonic Sharp Edge Flight Experiment (SHEFEX) vehicle was lost in the North Sea on 27 October after it was torn from its recovery parachute when it opened too early. Launched by an unguided solid-propellant two-stage rocket on an exo-atmospheric ballistic trajectory, the vehicle reached an altitude of 691,000ft (211,000m) and maximum speed of Mach 7 during its flight from the Norwegian Andoya Rocket Range.

The experimental flight was to confirm theoretical analysis of the aerodynamics and thermal protection system structure. The vehicle was supposed to begin releasing its two-stage parachute at 13,100ft for a 2,950ft/min (15m/s) water landing in the North Sea. “The parachute opened too early and led to a failure in the recovery operation. The payload tore from the parachute and went into freefall,” says Andoya Rocket Range.

The first stage was a Brazilian S30 launcher and the second an improved Orion rocket. During the flight the second stage remained attached after its fuel was consumed and its cold-gas attitude control system was used to re-orientate the vehicle for re-entry. SHEFEX is a three-year, €4 million ($4.8 million) project financed by DLR.

ROB COPPINGER/LONDON