Volume 6, Number 2 March/April 1998
Aerospace Technology Development
Lifeboat Flies Through Test
he development of the X-38, an innovative new spacecraft design planned for use as a future International Space Station emergency crew return "lifeboat," recently passed a major milestone with a successful first unpiloted flight test. The first X-38 atmospheric test vehicle was dropped from under the wing of NASA's B-52 aircraft at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, and completed a descent from a 23,000-foot altitude in 38 minutes.
"This was a real experimental flight test and the culmination of two years of hard work by a team from Johnson Space Center and Dryden Flight Research Center," X-38 project manager John Muratore said. "We had done everything we could to minimize the unknowns. But the real proof of the concept is a successful flight. We got one of those now, and we plan to do this about 20 more times over the next two years to prove we're ready to fly from space."
Atmospheric drop tests of the X-38 will continue using three increasingly complex test vehicles. The drop tests will increase in altitude to 50,000 feet and include longer flight times for the test craft prior to deployment of the parafoil. In 2000, an unpiloted space test vehicle is planned to be deployed from a Space Shuttle and descend to a landing. The X-38 crew return vehicle is targeted to begin operations aboard the International Space Station in 2003.
Once operational, the X-38 will become the first new human spacecraft designed to return humans from orbit and is being developed at a fraction of the cost of past human space vehicles. The primary application of the new spacecraft would be as an International Space Station "lifeboat," but the project also aims at developing a design that could be easily modified for other uses, such as a possible joint U.S. and international human spacecraft that could be launched on expendable rockets as well as the Space Shuttle. The European Space Agency is cooperating with NASA in the current development work, supplying several components for the planned space test vehicle.
The X-38 is being developed with an unprece-dented eye toward efficiency. The project is taking advantage of available equipment and already-developed technology for as much as 80 percent of the spacecraft's design.
For information, contact James Hartsfield at Johnson Space Center. Call
(281) 483-5111, Fax: (281) 483-2000. Please mention you read about it