The so-called Advanced Hypersonic Weapon is part of the Defense Department's Conventional Prompt Global Strike technology development program. The program's objective is to construct a missile that can wipe out a target anywhere on Earth in less than 60 minutes after receiving bullseye data and permission to launch.
The weapon was launched from the U.S. Army's Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, but the test flight was short-lived. An "anomaly" forced officials to quickly abandon the test "to ensure public safety," according to a press release from the Pentagon. There were no injuries.
China tested a hypersonic missile system last year, but most defense experts in the U.S. believe the Pentagon had the growing threat of Iran and North Korea in mind when they green-lighted the program.
Craig Campbell, president of Alaska Aerospace Corp., said the rocket's aborted flight ended in a "gigantic explosion" that lit up the sky.
"I watched it, I saw it, I knew it was happening, and I was feeling sorry for the launch team because their rocket wasn't going to be able to accomplish what they were trying to get done, and knew we were going to have a day like today," he told the Alaska Dispatch News. "We're going to have to assess damages and figure out what the future is."
The Pentagon said its weapons scientists were working to ascertain the exact cause of the anomaly.