The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division, in partnership with Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc., is developing the X-60A vehicle — this is an air-dropped liquid rocket specifically designed for hypersonic flight research.
The X-60A program has completed the Critical Design Review (CDR), a major program milestone that now moves into the fabrication phase. The initial flight of the vehicle, scheduled in about a year, is based out of Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida.
A key part of the X-60A program is that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration-licensed Cecil Spaceport provides a diversification in hypersonic flight testing to traditional Department of Defense (DoD) flight test ranges. Additionally, this is the first Air Force Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program to receive an experimental "X" designation, in a long line of historical X-planes that includes hypersonic vehicles such as the X-15 and X-51A.
AFRL's motivation for the X-60A program is to increase the frequency of flight testing while lowering the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies in relevant flight conditions. While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, we must also test those technologies with actual hypersonic flight conditions.
The X-60A rocket vehicle propulsion system is the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5.