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The United States, along with Russia and China, are working hard to develop a class of weapons, hypersonic weapons. Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles are designed to remain within the Earth’s atmosphere, however when travelling at speeds up to 20 Mach, the air friction in the atmosphere can cause the hypersonic missile to disintegrate during flight, unless built with special materials.
Scientists have already made developments in the material used to build hypersonic vehicles so that they won’t burn up in the atmosphere. The concern now is with the weapon’s accuracy.
Hypersonic weapons have been designed to travel at speeds greater than Mach 5. Although ballistic missiles may be faster sometimes, hypersonic missiles remain in the atmosphere making it less likely for ICBM interceptors to stop a hypersonic weapon. At least for now, hypersonic weapons are very difficult to defend against.
The downside of super fast speeds in Earth’s atmosphere is the buildup of heat due to the immense air friction. Even at supersonic speeds, Mach 1-5, air friction could cause the temperature of the vehicle to reach hundreds of degrees celsius.
The Union of Concerned Scientists have pointed out that due to the intense levels of heat building up, chemical reactions surrounding the air could create plasma around the weapon which could neutralize the weapons GPS and Communications capabilities, lowering its precision and its ability to be remotely controlled.
Popularmechanics.com further reports that hypersonic travel could also cause other problems stemming from high wind speeds and other environmental factors as well. This alters a hypersonics flight dynamics making it that much harder to maintain accuracy.
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