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X-51 hypersonic scramjet flight delayed by errant freighter

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The X-51A Waverider scramjet test scheduled for yesterday has been delayed for 24 hours by a freighter wandering into the Pacific firing range where the trial flight is to take place.

According to a statement issued by US spokesmen at Edwards airforce base - where the X-51's launch aircraft, a modified B-52 bomber operated by NASA, is based - the test required clear seas across the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range several hundred miles off the Californian coast.

The statement goes on:

A US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft supporting the test was safety scanning the Pacific Ocean test range for shipping traffic shortly after 9 am Pacific time when its crew discovered a ship steaming in international waters underneath a block of restricted airspace located in the vicinity of the X-51A's potential splashdown zone.

Weather permitting, the X-51A will make its first hypersonic flight attempt May 26.

Planned firings and tests are notified to mariners through a warning system which professional seafarers pay attention to, but there are lots of unprofessional seafarers plying the oceans of the world: and ultimately the US government can't force ships to keep clear of range areas like Point Mugu located in international waters. Hence the test postponement.

The X-51A, if successful, will be the first scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) to operate successfully outside the wind tunnel on hydrocarbon fuel - as opposed to troublesome hydrogen. Its technology could revolutionise high-speed missiles, and in the longer term lead to hypersonic aircraft and fully re-usable spaceplanes. ®

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