The white dot screaming through the sky at 20 times the speed of sound wasn't around for long, but researchers say it was long enough to provide some important information.
Video (scroll down to view) of an Aug. 11 test flight of a hypersonic glider launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base was released Wednesday. The video, taken by a crewmember aboard a tracking ship, shows the Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2 separate from a Minotaur 4 rocket near the edge of space and disappear into the distance.
"It gives us a visceral feel for what it means to fly at Mach 20," said Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director, Regina Dugan.
It's still difficult to comprehend travel at 13,000 mph -- that's New York to LA in 12 minutes. DARPA posted this HTV-2 speed comparison, which depicts the glider against an F-18 (Mach 1.5) and C-5 (Mach .6) transport aircraft.
The arrowhead-shaped HTV-2's horizon-to-horizon flight ended Aug. 11 when a problem with the safety system forced it into the ocean. Researchers collected some data during the three-minute flight and gained a better understanding of what it takes to deliver the vehicle to the edge of space, said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, HTV-2 program manager.
"What the Minotaur IV did was make a three-point shot from the California coastline into a basket between California and Hawaii," Schulz said.
The flight marked the second time since April 2010 that contact was lost during a test of the unmanned glider. The April test provided nine minutes of data.
The vehicle could give the military the ability to strike anywhere in the world within an hour.