Aug. 25, 1999 NASA's experimental X-34 rocket plane will undergo testing in New Mexico, California and Florida under a test plan recently approved by Agency officials. Both schedule and cost implications are currently being evaluated.
To support the expanded flight test program, engineers from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., and Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va., will upgrade the first airframe, designated A-1A, for flight. Following a series of tow tests on the ground at Dryden, the A-1A will be used to conduct unpowered test flights from Orbital's L-1011 carrier aircraft at the ArmyÕs White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
At the same time, Orbital, NASA's contractor for X-34, will complete assembly of the second X-34, designated A-2. Its Fastrac rocket engine will be installed on the vehicle and test fired on the ground at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., test facilities. After these ground test firings, the first series of powered flight tests of the X-34 will take place at Dryden.
The A-2 vehicle then will be shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for a second series of flight tests. These flights, which will reach speeds of up to approximately Mach 4.5, will demonstrate rapid turnaround flight operations. Demonstrations of autonomous crosswind landings and flight through rain will also be part of this testing.
Dryden and Orbital will complete the remainder of the test program, which involves the third X-34, designated A-3. These test flights will expand the rocketplane's maximum capability of speeds up to Mach 8 and altitudes up to 250,000 feet, while also testing additional reusable launch vehicle technologies as carry-on experiments.
The unpiloted, reusable X-34 is designed to demonstrate technologies and operations necessary to cut the cost of putting payloads into orbit from $10,000 to $1,000 per pound. Orbital has an $85.7 million contract with NASA to design, build and test fly three X-34 vehicles.
The winged, single-engine X-34 is 58.3 feet long. It has a 27.7-foot wingspan and stands 11.5 feet tall. It will be powered by a reusable Fastrac engine, designed and developed by engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and built by NASA's industry partners.
Marshall manages the X-34 program for NASA.
The X-34 is designed to be air-launched from beneath Orbital's modified L-1011 carrier plane and make an automated landing on a conventional runway and be readied for its next flight.
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