The Race Has Changed.
China has just claimed a successful launch of the country’s first Hypersonic aircraft, according to CNN. The term “Hypersonic” refers to the speed of the craft; to qualify as Hypersonic, it must be able to travel at least five times the speed of sound. That’s fast enough to fly over the entire United States in just half an hour.
The Bejing-Based China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) held the first test of its new craft, Starry Sky-2, last Friday. And according to the CAAA, the Starry Sky-2 was able to reach speeds that marked it overqualified for the title of Hypersonic, moving as fast as Mach 6, or 6 times the speed of sound – 4,563 Miles Per Hour.
CAAA claimed the test to be a complete and total success, posting pictures of the launch on Social Media platform WeChat.
“The Starry Sky-2 flight test project was strongly innovative and technically difficult, confronting a number of cutting-edge international technical challenges.”
This announcement puts the US starkly behind the curve in terms of this class of technology. The US Military had first announced plans to complete a Hypersonic weapon by 2023, meanwhile, Putin claimed that Russia has access to a Hypersonic missile last year with the capability to breach US defensive measures.
Hypersonic technology would be a highly effective choice for weapon systems for a number of reasons. First, their great speed allows their flight path to take them into and out of space during the course of their launch, making them much more difficult to detect. Second, when re-entering, they travel much lower to the ground than regular missiles, meaning defensive measures will have a harder time intercepting their flight paths.
But Hypersonic technology can be used for more than just weapons of mass (or moderate) destruction: Air travel giant Boeing hopes to turn the concept of a Hypersonic passenger craft into a reality. If realized, this crat would allow passengers to travel from the United States to Europe in under two hours.
Some additional details shared by the CAAA after this flight test help lessen the fear that this missile will be used offensively. The CAAA stated that the launch projectile was controllable, able to make swift turns and rotate mid-flight before coming to a safe landing.
If the Hypersonic technology was going to be put into a missile or similar payload, there’d be no need for it to be controllable mid-flight, and no need for it to be able to alter its flight path. There’d also be no need for it to be able to land successfully: Long-range missile attacks aren’t known for their ability to “land”.
Still, this announcement doesn’t do much for American anxieties about missile defenses and offenses. In the coming months, don’t be surprised if we see major political talks and movements being made to funnel more funds into US areospace programs – at least until the US military has been able to realize a Hypersonic craft of some kind.
Featured Image via CAAA Announcement Official