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Moments after release from NASA's B-52 carrier aircraft, the X-43A/Pegasus Moments after release from NASA's B-52 carrier aircraft, the X-43A/Pegasus "stack" is seen before ignition of the Pegasus rocket motor on.

Photo Number: EC01-0182-20
Photo Date: June 2, 2001

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The first X-43A hypersonic research aircraft and its modified Pegasus booster rocket were carried aloft by NASA's NB-52B carrier aircraft from Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on June 2, 2001 for the first of three high-speed free flight attempts. About an hour and 15 minutes later the Pegasus booster was released from the B-52 to accelerate the X-43A to its intended speed of Mach 7. Before this could be achieved, the combined Pegasus and X-43A "stack" lost control about eight seconds after ignition of the Pegasus rocket motor. The mission was terminated and explosive charges ensured the Pegasus and X-43A fell into the Pacific Ocean in a cleared Navy range area. A NASA investigation board is being assembled to determine the cause of the incident. Work continues on two other X-43A vehicles, the first of which could fly by late 2001. Central to the X-43A program is its integration of an air-breathing "scramjet" engine that could enable a variety of high-speed aerospace craft, and promote cost-effective access to space. The 12-foot, unpiloted research vehicle was developed and built for NASA by MicroCraft Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn. The booster was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. at Chandler, Ariz.

The X-43A flights are the first actual flight tests of an aircraft powered by a scramjet engine capable of operating at hypersonic speeds (above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound). Some 90 minutes after takeoff, the Pegasus will launch from a B-52, rocketing the X-43A to Mach 7 at 95,000 feet altitude, or Mach 10 at 105,000 feet altitude. The X-43A will be powered by its revolutionary air-breathing supersonic-combustion ramjet or "scramjet" engine. The X-43A will then fly a pre-programmed trajectory, conducting aerodynamic and propulsion experiments as it descends until it splashes into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA Photo by: Jim Ross

Keywords: X-43; X-43A; Pegasus

Last Modified: February 6, 2002
Responsible NASA Official: Marty Curry
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