NASA and the US Department of Defense are in urgent talks over the future of the joint National Aerospace Initiative (NAI) as budget changes resulting from President George Bush's space exploration initiative cast doubt over the agency's hypersonics programme. At risk are the Mach 7 X-43C supersonic-combustion ramjet (scramjet) demonstrator due to fly in 2007, a follow-on M15 X-43D planned for 2010 and the M7 reusable combined-cycle flight demonstrator, formerly designated the X-43B, targeted for 2011.

A second attempt to fly the X-43A hypersonic experimental vehicle at M7 is planned for 21 February. "If successful, we may move forward," says associate administrator for aeronautics Vic Lebacqz, but the decision will be taken by the new Exploration Systems office, to which the hypersonics effort has been transferred as part of NASA's Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) programme. "Whether hypersonics is a viable player when it comes to exploration will be decided by the new office," says Lebacqz. The success or failure of the X-43A flight "is kind of independent", he says.

NASA is studying which NGLT elements remain relevant. Flight demonstrations planned under its hypersonics programme were to be NASA's main contribution to the NAI, which aims to "add a Mach number a year" to reach M12 by 2012. Technology developed under the NAI is intended for application to missiles, long-range strike aircraft and reusable launch vehicles.

Source: Flight International