Orbital Sciences Up, Up, and Away

Space systems firm Orbital Sciences (NYSE: ORB  ) revealed on Saturday that its Hyper-X Launch Vehicle successfully boosted NASA's experimental X-43A supersonic combustion ramjet (or "scramjet") plane to its first hypersonic flight, nearly three years after an initial botched test.

Orbital's booster, a modified version of its Pegasus rocket, performed as planned by accelerating the X-43A -- which is built by Alliant Techsystems (NYSE: ATK  ) with support from Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) -- to Mach 7 before the plane separated and started its scramjet engine. The engine, a technological marvel that employs no moving parts, allowed the X-43A to briefly cruise at 5,000 miles per hour, the fastest flight ever for a jet aircraft.

The accomplishment is a nice turnaround for Orbital following a rocky start. NASA is one of Orbital's chief customers, providing 10% or more of the firm's $581.5 million in 2003 revenues. Naturally, keeping the space agency happy is a high priority.

In June 2001, NASA terminated the X-43A's first flight when Orbital's rocket veered off course shortly after launch. That failure created other headaches, as just days later NASA delayed the launch of an Orbital Pegasus XL rocket carrying a solar imaging satellite, fearing that the Pegasus rocket shared potential problems that doomed the X-43A launch. The Pegasus was eventually cleared, but Orbital was forced to make modifications to the X-43A booster's control system.

NASA built three X-43As as part of a seven-year, $230 million program begun in 2001. If the second flight had failed, NASA doubtless would have scrapped the third planned test and possibly halted further scramjet development. Orbital's standing at NASA surely would have taken a serious hit.

Even before Saturday's demonstration, the scramjet had been hailed as a revolutionary propulsion system for future space launch vehicles and commercial aircraft. The successful test should clear the way for development of the more capable X-43C vehicle, which is scheduled for launch in 2007. By acing the latest test, Orbital may have secured a place in future scramjet work, which should have investors flying high.

Interested in space exploration? Talk about it with other Fools on the space exploration & terraforming discussion board.

Brian Gormanis a freelance writer living in Chicago, Ill. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned here.

Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 506611, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 10/20/2016 5:23:43 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Today's Market

updated Moments ago Sponsored by:
DOW 18,162.35 -40.27 -0.22%
S&P 500 2,141.34 -2.95 -0.14%
NASD 5,241.83 -4.58 -0.09%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

12/31/1969 7:00 PM
ATK.DL $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Alliant Techsystem… CAPS Rating: ****
BA $135.84 Down -0.34 -0.25%
Boeing CAPS Rating: ****
OA $76.50 Down -0.39 -0.51%
Orbital ATK CAPS Rating: *****