Headquarters, Washington, DC
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL
The four-story-high, newly refurbished NASA Delta Clipper vehicle rolled out of McDonnell Douglas' facility in Huntington Beach, CA, today for transport to New Mexico in preparation for flight tests beginning in May.
Dubbed the DC-XA, for Delta Clipper-Experimental Advanced, the unpiloted, single-stage vehicle is being developed under a cooperative agreement between NASA and its industry partner to demonstrate new technologies needed for a reliable, affordable reusable launch vehicle that could be operated commercially by American industry with NASA as one of its customers.
"This is a radically different vehicle from the DC-X that flew last year in tests conducted for the Air Force," said DC-XA project manager Dan Dumbacher at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. "Many technology innovations have been introduced to the vehicle and when we test fly it this spring we'll be writing a new page in the history of space transportation systems."
The DC-XA will be the first rocket ever to fly with a composite hydrogen tank. The tank, built by McDonnell Douglas, is made of graphite-epoxy and is 1,200 pounds lighter than the aluminum tank used in the DC-X. Achieving that kind of weight reduction is essential to the development of a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle. The composite tank successfully withstood cryogenic testing under simulated flight conditions at Marshall in December.
The series of flight tests planned for the DC-XA at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico will demonstrate the hydrogen tank's performance as well as that of other new advanced technology components of the vehicle in a real world operating environment, according to Dumbacher. These components include a Russian-built aluminum-lithium alloy liquid oxygen tank; a composite intertank to connect the hydrogen and oxygen tanks; and an auxiliary propulsion system consisting of a composite liquid hydrogen feedline, a composite liquid hydrogen valve and a liquid-to-gas conversion system in the flight reaction control system. The U.S. Air Force's Phillips Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, will manage flight test operations.
The DC-XA, X-34 and X-33 comprise NASA's Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Program, a partnership among NASA, the Air Force and private industry to develop a new generation of single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles. The knowledge and experience acquired in developing and test flying the DC-XA will be used by NASA and an industry partner in development of the X-33, a larger advanced technology demonstrator. NASA will select its industry partner for that vehicle later this year, with test flights planned for 1999.
The X-34, a small technology vehicle to be developed and flight tested by 1998, also will contribute valuable data to the X-33 program, which in turn could lead to a national, industry-led decision to develop a commercial reusable launch vehicle early next century.
NASA's investment in the DC-XA program is $20 million for hardware and $30 million for integration. In addition to Marshall, New Mexico's USAF Phillips Lab and U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range, as well as NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, and Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, are supporting DC-XA.