Darpa: Now We Know Why Our Mach-20 Ship Crashed

David Axe

It took six months, but the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency finally has a handle on what caused its hypersonic weapon prototype to “terminate” itself over the Pacific Ocean back in April. The findings have paved the way for a fresh round of tests for the Mach-20 flier, potentially leading to a new class of superfast weapons.

The Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2 — a 12-foot, 2,000-pound wedge packing a three-stage Minotaur booster — launched without incident from California on April 22. It climbed to the edge of space for a planned 30-minute, 4,000-mile jaunt toward Kwajalein in the middle of the Pacific.

But nine minutes into the flight, controllers on the ground lost contact with the HTV-2. The culprit, according to Darpa’s Engineering Review Board? “Higher-than-predicted yaw, which coupled into roll, thus exceeding the available control capability at the time of the anomaly.”

In other words, the HTV wobbled too much. Rather than risking an out-of-control flight, the bot self-destructed. On the bright side, according to a chipper Darpa release, the failed test “demonstrated successfully the first-ever use of an autonomous flight-termination system.”

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