NASA's Apex high altitude flight experiment, a remotely piloted research glider designed to operate at altitudes above 70,000ft (21,350m), has passed its critical design review (CDR) and is on track for its first flight this year.

The Apex project is part of NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology programme, and is intended to give researchers a better understanding of the aerodynamics of subsonic flight at high altitudes.

Project officials at Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, California, say the design is essentially frozen. Advanced Soaring Concepts, of Camarillo, California, will begin building the aircraft after altitude chamber tests of the thermal management system and structural loads testing of a wing section have been completed.

During the initial test flights at Dryden, Apex will be released between 90,000ft and 95,000ft, and, on subsequent flights, nearer to 108,000ft. Six flights are planned over a six-month period in the first phase of flight research.

The vehicle will be towed aloft in a 2h 30min ascent using a large, high altitude balloon provided by the National Science Balloon Facility, Palestine, Texas.

Source: Flight International