Jan. 3, 2000 Assembly of the second of NASA’s three X-34 rocket research planes reached a major milestone last week with the attachment of its composite wing to its fuselage at Orbital Sciences Corp. facilities in Dulles, Va.
Orbital is building and will operate the three experimental robot planes under contract to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The X-34 is part of a family of experimental vehicles designed to demonstrate technologies that will increase the safety and reliability of future launch vehicles and reduce launch costs from $10,000 per pound to $1,000.
A-2, as the second vehicle is designated, will make the X-34’s first powered flights scheduled to occur from Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., next year. After the A-2 vehicle is assembled and tested at Orbital, the wing -- manufactured by R-Cubed of West Jordon, Utah -- will be removed and shipped to Dryden.
The fuselage will be shipped to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. There, integrated with its Fastrac rocket engine, it will undergo propulsion system testing before being shipped to Dryden where the wing will be reattached for powered flights. The Fastrac engine was designed and developed by the Marshall Center. Marshall is NASA’s Lead Center for Space Transportation System Development.
The first X-34 is now at Dryden being modified for unpowered flight testing at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. in the spring. The third X-34, still in early stages of production, will be used to flight test additional technologies late in the series of 27 planned X-34 missions. The X-34 is approximately 58 feet (17.7 meters) long with a wingspan of about 27 feet (8.4 meters).
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