The US Air Force’s X-60A hypersonic research vehicle has completed its critical design review.

The programme is now moving into the fabrication phase, with an initial flight of the vehicle scheduled to take place in about a year at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida, says the USAF. The liquid rocket-powered vehicle is designed to be launched after being dropped from under the belly of a NASA C-20A, a military version of the Gulfstream III business jet.


Rendering of the X-60A launching from a NASA C-20A


The vehicle is being developed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in partnership with Generation Orbit Launch Services.

The AFRL is developing the X-60A to increase the frequency of flight testing at hypersonic speeds, which it hopes will lower the cost of maturing such technologies. The USAF will also continue to use ground test facilities, but says it wants an option to also test under hypersonic flight conditions.

The X-60A’s propulsion system is a Hadley liquid rocket engine, made by Ursa Major Technologies, which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to push the vehicle to speeds above Mach 5.