3 hypersonic rockets with NASA satellites take off on Wallops Island

Three hypersonic rockets developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, blasted into the sky Saturday from Wallops Island, Virginia, in the latest effort to advance anti-missile defense, aerospace technology and other Cold War-era initiatives.

A pair of rocket engines launched at 7:21 a.m. from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, followed by a third from 7:36 a.m. The Atlas V launch vehicle carried two small satellites, and the rocket, shaped like a second-generation rocket booster, was ejected from the base and swung into the air.

A fourth rocket, delivered on a separate pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, blasted off at 7:41 a.m. and flew the Minotaur-II rocket booster above the range. No one was injured by the rockets’ blasts.

Speaking at the Wallops launch site, the directors of DARPA and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility said there was no safety reason to alert the public to the rocket activity.

“All three of these rockets today passed a successful operational assessment by the Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program, which certifies that they have met the rigorous safety standards of the Cold War era,” said Bruce Carlson, DARPA program manager for the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Science and Technology Programs.

The launch began a month after the military conducted a secret test of a surface-to-air missile system against an moving target in California. Critics of the White House decision to conduct the test say it was risky and took advantage of speculation about a high-tech liquid-fueled missile system before it was publicly launched. But a Pentagon spokesman said no missile systems were deployed during the secret test.

One rocket lifted off Saturday, along with two launched earlier.

A former Reagan administration scientist wrote about how the test took advantage of what’s known as a “dummy” missile — a test version of a weapon capable of being launched but not activated in real life.

Critics also said the classified test was paid for by the National Security Agency, based in a spy community facility north of Washington, and taken place against the backdrop of a relentless anti-terrorism campaign.

Among the space agencies, DARPA and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility were two early partners in the space race in the 1960s. DARPA was founded in 1950 and led a section of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics that conducted research and development on hypersonic technologies and missiles to defend against ballistic and cruise missiles.

Following the Cold War, DARPA operations grew to include the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, for research in cyberspace, information and cognitive sciences. The agency had a presence at Wallops until a reorganization a decade ago, and has maintained laboratories at the former testing site, where it is now a partner of NASA.

During Saturday’s rocket tests, two Air Force payloads — the short-term flash illumination radar and a three-component mirror — launched from Wallops. Two more were attached to the launcher system: a metal milling tool for the center of each rocket, the third component of which was a large mirror known as a second-generation large-diameter optical.

DARPA and NASA also announced that the weather was great for launches and recovery of the rockets. Winds were 30 mph at takeoff, with 6-8 mph gusts. Winds decreased to 6 mph at launch, with 0 mph gusts by the point when the boosters separated.

“The program takes a great deal of pride in these experiments,” DARPA Director Jason Held said. “It takes an investment of time and money, and especially a large focus of human and technical talent.”

With almost a week to go before the launch, Holded said DARPA and NASA will be especially looking for optimal weather conditions, especially winds, in the days leading up to the rocket.

Saturday’s event is the second test of a hypersonic rocket by DARPA this year. In May, the agency launched a rocket — roughly the size of a used bicycle — to simulate an intercontinental ballistic missile to prove the hypersonic launcher system would be operationally viable in the real world.

Also in May, the Space-Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, used a vehicle similar to DARPA’s hypersonic launcher in an atmospheric launch to demonstrate antimissile defenses against threats that could interfere with future ground, maritime or air-based assets.

This article was written by Chris Cifaki from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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