A hypersonic space weapon designed by the United States Army failed on takeoff on 25 Aug., and was destroyed four seconds after liftoff.
The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon was designed to launch on top of a three-stage rocket, powered by solid fuel. The weapon was developed as part of the Conventional Prompt Global Strike program. This armaments development research is aimed at developing new weapons for use on land and sea.
"The flight was terminated in the first four seconds," Maureen Schumann, Pentagon spokesperson wrote.
Scott Wight was taking photographs of the night sky near Kodiak, Alaska at the scheduled time of launch. He hoped to photograph the liftoff, against a backdrop of the Milky Way, when the explosion occurred.
"I think it was about a minute or so before the roar of the takeoff made it to us followed shortly after by the sound of the explosion. I didn't notice any shock wave although I've heard others say they felt something," Wight told the press.
The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) was successfully tested in 2011. After launch, the system flew 2,500 miles in just 30 minutes. This new test was scheduled to cover 3,500 miles in less than an hour.
The launch failure occurred when the vehicle exploded on takeoff, then crashed back onto the launch facility. An order was sent to the rocket, commanding the vehicle to self-destruct. No one was injured in the accident, although the degree of property damage is still unknown. The launch pad is roughly 25 miles from Kodiak, with a population of roughly 6,500 residents.
Hypersonic flight is defined as a vehicle soaring through the air at five times the speed of sound or faster. At sea level, sound travels 762 miles per hour.
Hypersonic vehicles are being developed in several forms by the military. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a Hypersonic Test Vehicle (HTV). In 2011, the vehicle reached a speed 20 times faster than sound before control of the vehicle was lost.
The X-51 Waverider scramjet vehicle, designed by the Air Force, reached Mach 5.1 before a scheduled crash into the Pacific Ocean.
The Army operates two missile bases. Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, as well as Fort Greeley, Alaska. Some military leaders desire a base on the east coast, as well.
"Obviously, putting a third site out there on the East Coast will provide increased capacity, not so much capability, but increased capacity. It also will give a little bit more decision space or 'battle space' as it's known, in order to make a decision regarding a threat emanating from Iran," Lt. Gen. David Mann, commander, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, said.
The Pentagon is investigating the cause of this accident. This second test was seen by the Army as a harbinger of the possible future of the weapon program.