NASA has awarded a $33.4 million contract to a team led by MicroCraft to build four experimental aircraft which will be used to demonstrate hypersonic propulsion technologies as part of the Hyper-X project.

The other team members joining Tullahoma, Tennessee-based MicroCraft are Boeing North American, GASL and Accurate Automation.

The 3.7m-long Hyper-X is designed to fly at speeds of Mach 5-10 at an altitude of 100,000ft (30,500m), powered by a hydrogen-fuelled ramjet/scramjet. The vehicle will be accelerated to the flight-test speed and altitude by the first stage of an Orbital Sciences booster, launched from a Boeing B-52 aircraft.

NASA hopes that the propulsion technology can eventually be applied to much larger hypersonic aircraft and re-usable space launchers. "We are ready to prove this technology - to be the first to fly an air-breathing vehicle at hypersonic speeds," says Vince Rausch, NASA Langley's Hyper-X project manager.

An initial four Hyper-X flights are planned, beginning in 1999. The project is being conducted by Langley Research Center and Dryden Flight Research Center.

Source: Flight International