Three launches set this week from the Cape. Is one a DoD hypersonic missile weapons test?

All signs point to DoD weapons test

SpaceX sends another round of Starlink satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral (FILE)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla.Launch activity from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station this week is seeing an uptick. As many as three launches are on deck through the weekend. However, one of them is unlike the others in that it could be a possible Department of Defense weapons test: the launch of a hypersonic missile, according to News 6 partner FLORIDA TODAY.

According to safety warnings issued Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, some kind of space operation is expected from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Wednesday, but none of the active launch providers — NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance — have any missions scheduled for liftoff.

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All signs point to a DoD weapons test:

A notice to airmen of a temporary flight restriction issued by the FAA Tuesday morning states that “no pilots may operate an aircraft in the areas,” which stretch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center south to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and east over the Atlantic Ocean. The restriction is scheduled to be in effect Wednesday between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. EDT.

The closed air space also aligns with an area of “hazardous operations” cited by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency during roughly the same time window. Both of these types of warnings are typically put in place ahead of any launch activity from Florida’s Space Coast.

This comes after the Army and Navy’s joint attempt to launch a hypersonic missile from the Cape in March was scrubbed by the Department of Defense.

“On March 5, the Department of Defense planned to conduct a flight test from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to inform the department’s hypersonic technology development,” the Office of the Secretary of Defense told FLORIDA TODAY. “As a result of pre-flight checks, the test did not occur.”

What to know about hypersonic missiles:

Hypersonic missiles fly at Mach 5 or faster, or at least five times the speed of sound.

Due to security concerns, the Secretary of Defense’s office said it was unable to confirm the exact type of hypersonic system deployed for the Cape test that had scrubbed. The Army, however, has been testing its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon system, or LRHW, at sites across the country for several years.

“In terms of air defenses, they present an almost insurmountable problem to take them down with traditional air defenses. That’s why they’re so important to the military,” said John Cain, professor emeritus with the Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Aeronautics.

“You can’t hit a hypersonic missile if it’s going away from you. It’ll flat outrun anything,” he said.

Cain is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served as a USAF Weapons School instructor pilot at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, and he flew supersonic F-100 Super Sabres, F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-111 Aardvarks during his military career.

“It’s really hard to shoot down,” he said of a hypersonic missile. “Mach 5 is about 3,800 miles an hour. It’s about 63 miles a minute. It’s about a mile every second.”

At those speeds, Cain said rigorous testing is critical for DoD and NASA to develop effective engines, heat-resistant construction and accurate avionics.

“The ergonomic surfaces are so critical. I mean, if you were to have one of them inadvertently move an eighth of an inch, it would spin the missile out of control at those speeds,” Cain said.

The Naval Ordnance Test Unit based at Port Canaveral also conducts missile tests, but those are usually launched from submarines at sea.

Cape Canaveral’s other rocket launches this week:

While Wednesday’s launch remains mysterious, the other two rocket launches slated from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station later this week involve SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

SpaceX teams at the Cape’s Launch Complex 40 are working toward liftoff of the next Falcon 9 mission carrying another batch of the company’s Starlink internet-beaming satellites to orbit. The Starlink 6-14 mission is tentatively slated for Friday night sometime between 7:32 p.m. and 12:02 a.m. EDT, though the company hasn’t yet confirmed the mission’s existence.

At nearby Launch Complex 41, United Launch Alliance teams are expected to target Saturday morning for the launch of an Atlas V rocket between 8:15 a.m. and 10:39 a.m. EDT. The NROL-107 mission is a joint effort between the U.S. Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office set to carry secretive national security payloads to geostationary orbit. That mission had been delayed due to Hurricane Idalia.

If that targeted launch date holds, ULA teams are expected to roll the 196-foot Atlas V rocket to its launch pad from the company’s vertical integration facility sometime this week.

For the latest launch schedule updates, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.

Contact Jamie Groh at JGroh@floridatoday.com and follow her on X.com at @AlteredJamie.


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