July 15, 1999 NASA and The Boeing Co. have entered into a $173 million cooperative agreement to develop a new experimental space plane called the X-37 that will be ferried into orbit to test new technologies for reusable launch vehicles.
NASA selected Boeing, of Seal Beach, Calif., in December 1998, for negotiations leading to a four-year agreement to develop and fly the orbital testbed. The reusable space plane will demonstrate 41 airframe, propulsion and operations technologies aimed at significantly cutting the cost of space flight. The X-37 can be carried into orbit by the Space Shuttle or be launched by an expendable rocket.
"We must make space transportation more affordable and reliable if we want to open the way for future exploration and commerce," said Susan Turner, X-37 project manager for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Ala. "The emphasis is on advancing technology, lowering costs and increasing reliability," she said. "Technologies that have been developed in the lab and ground tested can now be taken to the next level of readiness – flight."
"Potential new commercial and military reusable space vehicle market applications for these technologies range from on-orbit satellite repair to a next-generation of totally reusable launch vehicles," said Ron Prosser, vice president of Advanced Space and Communications for Boeing Phantom Works in Seal Beach, Ca.
The government-industry team will share the cost of the program roughly 50-50. The Air Force is committing $16 million to demonstrate technologies needed to improve future military spacecraft. The X-37 measures 27.5 feet long with a wingspan of about 15 feet. It has an experiment bay 7 feet long and 4 feet in diameter. Its shape is a 120-percent-scale derivative of the X-40A, an unpowered Air Force vehicle also designed and built by Boeing, which was released from a helicopter and glide-tested in 1998. The X-40A, which lacks the X-37’s advanced thermal protection materials, rocket engine, experiment bay and other spacecraft systems, will be drop tested from a B-52 carrier plane to reduce risk prior to expanded testing with the X-37.
The unpiloted X-37 will be NASA’s first reusable launch vehicle demonstrator to fly in both orbital and reentry environments, operating at speeds up to 25 times the speed of sound. NASA’s X-33 and X-34 technology demonstrators are suborbital and operate at lower speeds. After the X-37 is deployed, it will remain in orbit up to 21 days, performing a variety of experiments before reentering the atmosphere and landing. Various locations are being studied for its landing site.
Assembly, integration, checkout and tests are planned at Boeing facilities in Palmdale and Seal Beach, Calif., in 2000 and 2001.
The first unpowered flight test of the X-37 from a B-52 is planned for fall 2001 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Two orbital tests are planned for 2002. The goal of the X-37 and NASA’s other reusable technology demonstrators is to reduce the cost of getting into space from $10,000 to $1,000 per pound while increasing reliability.
The X-37 government team, led by the Marshall Center, also includes NASA’s Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif.; Kennedy Space Center, Fla.; Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.; and Dryden Flight Research Center and the U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base. The X-37 industry team is led by The Boeing Co. of Seal Beach. Other Boeing facilities participating in the program are located in Huntington Beach and Palmdale, Calif., Seattle, and St. Louis.
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The above story is based on materials provided by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
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