I was watching <a href=”http://www.historychannel.com””>The History Channel tonight, and they had a bit on about how missiles are tested without actually turning missiles loose in the air. What was needed was a way to maintain full control over the missile’s trajectory even if something went terribly wrong. The answer? Put it on rails.
The test track is at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, and in 2003 a validation test was done using a four-stage rocket sled, which broke the land speed record, topping out at 6,453 miles per hour. That’s Mach 8.5. On a set of rails.
The first 11,000 feet of the sled’s trip was through a plastic tube filled with helium, which decreases air friction and simulates upper atmospheric flight conditions. The sled was unmanned, which is a good thing because as the sled moved accelerating down the track it was pulling about 15g’s.