NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
X-43B aircraft. Computer artwork of a B-52 bomber (lower right) and NASA's X-43B or Hypersonic Experimental Vehicle (Hyper-X) in flight. The Hyper-X programme was started in 1996 to test the scramjet-powered jet engine and to design a plane that could be used at hypersonic speeds. The scramjet engines, unlike rockets that must carry both oxygen and fuel, use oxygen from the air scooped up as the aircraft flies at over 5 times the speed of sound (Mach 5). The X-43B is a large plane compared with the B-52. The B-52 is 50 metres long and has a wingspan of 56 metres. If the X-43B is constructed it is to be used as a reusable launch vehicle for spacecraft.
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