All eyes are on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California today, where DARPA's Falcon HTV-2 unmanned aircraft is scheduled to launch into space at hypersonic speeds, as part of a critical test flight. Measuring just 12 feet in length, the HTV-2 maxes out at a speed of about 1300 16,700 miles per hour (Mach 22), theoretically allowing it to jet from New York to Los Angeles in just 12 minutes and to reach anywhere in the world in less than an hour. The main obstacle, however, has been transitioning from theory to practice. During its first test flight back in April, the craft lasted just nine minutes before intentionally crashing, due to technical failures. DARPA still doesn't know what went wrong during that fateful test, though the agency speculates that the Falcon may have simply overheated. This time around, engineers have adjusted plane's center of gravity and angle of descent, in the hopes that their creation will fare better when it launches on the back of a Minotaur IV rocket, later today. If the test proves successful, it may help fuel similarly inter-galactic defense projects that the Pentagon is exploring as a means to combat terrorism and enemy states. We'll have to wait a little longer to find out whether this initiative actually takes off, but in the meantime, head past the break for a demo video from DARPA.

Update: Sadly, while the Minotaur IV rocket launch and separation were successful, the Falcon HTV-2 itself was lost nine minutes into its flight this morning just as its predecessor was. DARPA did manage to collect data up until the crash (somewhere in the Pacific Ocean), however, and says that it plans to review it over the coming weeks. Third time's the charm, maybe?

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DARPA's Falcon HTV-2 hypersonic aircraft launches today, does New York to LA in 12 minutes (update: lost in flight)