The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has completed the critical design review of the X-60A hypersonic flight research vehicle programme.

Formerly known as the GOLauncher 1, the X-60A vehicle is being developed under collaboration between AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate High Speed Systems Division and Generation Orbit Launch Services.

It is an affordable air-dropped single-stage rocket-powered test platform expected to serve the hypersonic flight test and suborbital research communities.

The vehicle is designed for hypersonic flight research to mature technologies, including scramjet propulsion, high-temperature materials and autonomous control.

Completion of the critical design review represents a major milestone in the X-60A programme, which is moving into the fabrication phase.

AFRL and Generation Orbit plan to undertake the maiden flight of the vehicle in approximately a year from the US Federal Aviation Administration-licensed Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida, US.

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“While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, we must also test those technologies with actual hypersonic flight conditions.”

Cecil Spaceport was chosen for the X-60A programme due to its diversification in hypersonic flight testing compared to traditional Department of Defense flight test ranges.

According to AFRL, the programme is the first US Air Force Small Business Innovative Research programme to secure an experimental ‘X’ designation.

The objective of the X-60A programme is to enhance the frequency of flight testing and reduce the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies in relevant flight conditions.

In a statement, AFRL said: “While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, we must also test those technologies with actual hypersonic flight conditions.”

The vehicle’s propulsion system comprises the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants.

The system has the ability to provide access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions between Mach 5 and Mach 8.

Generation Orbit stated on its website that in dash mode, the X-60A can achieve the speeds with a test payload attached.