NASA News Release 01-31
March 1, 2001
NASA Reaches Milestone in Space Launch Initiative Program
Also Announces No SLI Funding for X-33 or X-34
NASA has selected a number of companies to enter into competitive negotiations
for the Space Launch Initiative (SLI). As defined in the President's budget blueprint
for the Agency, the Space Launch Initiative provides commercial industry with the
opportunity to meet NASA's future launch needs, including human access to space,
with new launch vehicles that promise to dramatically reduce cost and improve safety
and reliability. The primary focus of the Space Launch Initiative is on technology
development for concepts that would be able to launch payloads for NASA, commercial
and military missions and be able to fly crew to and from the International Space
Station. Satellite delivery and future International Space Station support are the
primary set of requirements for the new system and would include elements like crew
transfer vehicles, reusable launch vehicles and orbital transfer systems.
NASA also announced today it will not add Space Launch Initiative funds to the
X-33 or X-34 programs. As a result, the current X-33 program will come to completion
when the cooperative agreement between NASA and Lockheed Martin expires on March
31, unless Lockheed Martin chooses to go forward with the program with its own funds.
NASA is in the process of ending its X-34 contract with Orbital Sciences Corp. of
Continuation of both programs had depended upon their successfully competing
for Space Launch Initiative funding under a NASA Research Announcement that will
lead to award of some $900 million over the next two-and-a-half years. That solicitation
was issued in October 2000, and industry proposals submitted in December 2000. Contract
awards could be awarded as early as April, but none of those negotiations will include
X-33 or X-34. NASA determined that the benefits to be derived from flight testing
these X-vehicles did not warrant the magnitude of government investment required
and that SLI funds should be applied to higher priority needs.
More than 300 personnel from throughout NASA participated in the SLI proposal
evaluation process. "This has been a very tough decision but we think it is
the right business decision," said Art Stephenson, Director of NASA's Marshall
Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. Marshall manages the SLI, X-33 and X-34 programs
for NASA. "We have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from these X-programs,
but one of the things we have learned is that our technology has not yet advanced
to the point that we can successfully develop a new reusable launch vehicle that
substantially improves safety, reliability and affordability."
"The Space Launch Initiative will take us to that point. It is a comprehensive,
long-range plan to promote commercial development and civil exploration of space
and provides the strategy and funding to enable at least two competing architectures
for full-scale development of a 2nd generation reusable launch vehicle by mid-decade,"
added Stephenson. "Through focused risk-reduction activities and risk-reduction
technology development, we will make significant improvements in safety, reliability
and affordability over the launch capability we have today. A new launch system that
meets these goals could begin operating early in the next decade."
NASA began the X-33 program in 1996 as part of its Reusable Launch Vehicle program.
It called for the demonstration of a subscale single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, one
that would go from launch stand to orbit without using multiple stages as the Saturn
moon rocket did or dropping rocket motors and fuel tank like the Space Shuttle.
Using composite materials to reduce vehicle weight is one of the keys to successfully
developing a single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle. In November 1999 the X-33's composite
liquid hydrogen fuel tank failed during testing. An investigation into the cause
of the failure revealed that composite technology was not mature enough for such
a use. Lockheed Martin proposed to complete development of the X-33 by replacing
its two composite liquid hydrogen tanks with aluminum tanks. NASA agreed to permit
them to compete for SLI funding to do so. But the benefits of testing the X-33 in
flight did not justify the cost.
NASA investment in the X-33 program totaled $912 million, staying within its
1996 budget projection for the program. Lockheed Martin originally committed to invest
$212 million in the X-33, and during the life of the program increased that amount
to $357 million.
The X-34 program also was initiated in 1996, to provide a low-cost technology
test bed that would demonstrate a streamlined management approach with a rapid development
schedule and limited testing. A joint NASA/Orbital Sciences Corporation review of
the project last year revealed the need to redefine the project's approach, scope,
budget and schedule. To ensure safety and mission success of the X-34 it became necessary
to increase Government technical insight, hardware testing and integrated systems
assessments. As a result, the projected cost of completing the X-34 program at an
acceptable level of risk rose significantly above the planned budget. NASA decided
that such additional funding for X-34 risk reduction would have to be competed within
the SLI evaluation process. As with X-33, NASA determined that the benefits to be
derived from continuing the X-34 program did not justify the cost.