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NASA rolls out reusable rocketplane
Copyright 1999 Nando Media
Copyright 1999 Reuters News Service
EDWARDS, Calif. (April 30, 1999 10:04 p.m. EDT
- A test version of a reusable
"rocketplane" that could fly at eight times the speed of sound and
launch satellites was rolled out on Friday at a NASA research center
The unmanned, single-engine X-34 experimental space launch vehicle,
built by Orbital Sciences Corp., will be used to test new technologies
for the development of reusable satellite launch vehicles, which would
cut the cost of putting payloads into space.
The 58-foot long X-34 will be carried aloft by a Lockheed L-1011
TriStar jet and then released. It will be able to fly as high as
250,000 feet at speeds of up to Mach 8, or eight times the speed of
sound, and land on a conventional runway.
The rocketplane, which has a 28-foot wingspan, was rolled out on
Friday at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Dryden
Flight Research Centre.
"We need new technologies that allow spacecraft to operate more like
today's commercial air carriers," X-34 project manager Mike Allen of
the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in a
Most satellites are sent into space aboard rockets that are used just
once, and a reusable launch vehicle could substantially lower the cost
of putting satellites into space.
"By reducing the cost of launch services, space will be made more
accessible to a wider group of commercial and government customers,"
Orbital President David Thompson said in a speech at the Centre.
Over the next several months, Orbital will conduct several test
flights of the X-34 with its L-1011 carrier aircraft to allow the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration to approve design modifications to the
L-1011 to accommodate the X-34.
Afterward, several unpowered flights will be conducted in which the
X-34 will be released from the L-1011 and glide back to Earth. These
tests will lead to the first powered flight in which the vehicle
will ignite its "Fastrac" turbopump rocket engine and land like an
aircraft, initially on a dry lakebed, and eventually on a conventional
The relatively simple and easy-to-build engine, being developed by
NASA at its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is part
of a drive to develop technology to lower the cost of getting to