Key X-33 Events in 1999
Click on the date to go to a related news release and any associated photos.
Effective September 1, 1999, before being posted to this site, the information
contained in this time line is reviewed by the NASA X-33 Program.
Many thanks to Dill Hunley, Historian, NASA Dryden Research Center; and Jim Cast,
NASA Headquarters, for supplying the news releases and photographs found here.
July through December
The roll-out of the first of four X-33 (XRS-2200) aerospike
engines took place today. This was a major event for Rocketdyne, and the X-33 Program.
Speakers at the even included Rocketdyne Vice President and General Manager Byron
Wood, Rocketdyne Advanced Propulsion chief Steve Bouley, X-33 Aerospike Program Manager
Rick Hilscher, and Lockheed Martin X-33 Program Manager Cleon Lacefield. The following
day, the engine will be trucked to NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi
for testing. Of the four X-33 aerospike engines that Rocketdyne is building, the
first two will serve as test engines, while the second set of four engines will be
fitted to the X-33 vehicle. Delivery of the vehicle engines likely will not occur
until November or December. The first X-33 flight then will not take place until
July 2000, as currently planned.
1999 July 7
The first X-33 aerospike engine left Rocketdyne this day for NASA's Stennis Space
Center in Mississippi. Testing of the engine is scheduled to begin in mid-August.
Also scheduled for mid-August is testing of the liquid hydrogen tank.
NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi announced that the first XRS-2200
linear aerospike engine had arrived there over the preceding weekend.
1999 July 26
Testing of the first XRS-2200 linear aerospike engine at NASA's John C. Stennis
Space Center in Mississippi has been delayed until September.
1999 July 30
The first engine has been installed in the test stand fixture at NASA's Stennis
Research Center. Some facility work is still in process for making the test stand
ready. Foam machining work has slowed the completion of modifications to liquid hydrogen
tank #2 until the first week of August. Liquid hydrogen tank #1 is still on track
for a completion date of August 15th at Sunnyvale, California. The right body flap
has been shipped to begin its tile installation. The left body flap should be complete
and ready for shipping in the first part of August.
1999 August 8
Delays continue. NASA's Stennis Research Center reports that they are 50 engine
parts short of having a complete engine for the upcoming aerospike engine hot fire
tests. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center still hasn't established a Test Readiness
Review date for the upcoming liquid hydrogen tank tests.
1999 August 24
Gene Austin, NASA X-33 Program Manager, and Cleon Lacefield, Skunk Works, represented
the X-33 program during a NASA X-vehicle press conference held today 1 - 3 PM EDT
at NASA Headquarters broadcast over NASA television. They joined NASA and industry
program personnel, including Gary Payton, from the X-34 and X-37 programs. View "slide
show" of X-33 presentation vugraphs.
1999 August 30
In a draft General Accounting Office (GAO) report, according to Aerospace
Daily, delays in the X-33 Program may have an impact on NASA's decisions regarding
upgrades to the Shuttle. It also noted that the Skunk Works could charge X-33 cost
overruns to other federal programs as independent research and development (IRAD)
overhead. As a result, an estimated $286.6 million industry contribution to the X-33
program may amount to only $125.4 million. The GAO report also stated that, according
to Aerospace Daily, NASA has lowered its performance objectives. Industry
will receive a $60 million payment after five flights, instead of $75 million for
15 flights. NASA responded that they altered the performance requirements after Lockheed
Martin agreed to increase its contribution by $75 million. As for the IR&D deductions,
the actual amount, NASA stated, may turn out to be lower after an audit.
NASA announced that testing will begin on the XRS-2200 (X-33) linear aerospike
engine "in September." The engine arrived July 10 at NASA's John C. Stennis
Space Center in southern Mississippi. Stennis personnel will conduct a total of 41
test firings on four engines (two test engines and two flight engines). The first
25 firings will involve two flight engines and one test engine, each tested individually.
The first six engine tests (lasting five seconds or less) will address engine ignition
and start sequence development. Upon successful completion of those tests, eight
more tests will take place lasting a maximum of 250 seconds to verify engine performance
at various mixture ratios and power levels, as well as to demonstrate thrust vector
control. Planned total test duration on the first test engine is 1,142 seconds.
1999 August 31
Aerospace Daily reported that Rocketdyne's XRS-2200 linear aerospike engine
is scheduled for its first full-up hot-fire test on September 11. This will mark
the beginning of engine tests for the X-33 that will last into next summer, when
the X-33 is scheduled to being test flights. Chilldown tests on the first of the
four XRS-2200 engines that Rocketdyne is building for the X-33 program are to begin
this week at NASA's Stennis Research Center in preparation for the first hot-fire
test. This first engine is only intended for testing, not flight. It will be subjected
to 14 tests this fall. The combined duration of all 14 tests will be 1,142 seconds
(about 19 minutes). These will be tests of the ignition system, the engine start
sequence, and engine performance at various fuel mixture ratios. In November, the
first flight engine is scheduled to begin a six-test series, lasting a total of 572
seconds (about 9.5 minutes). A series of five tests of the second flight engine is
scheduled to begin in December. These engine tests also will look out engine performance
with one of its power packs out, because the pair of XRS-2200 engines powering the
X-33 are designed to keep running despite a power pack failure. The power packs already
have undergone testing at Stennis for more than 1,500 seconds (25 minutes) without
NASA announced that one of the X-33 composite liquid hydrogen fuel tanks would
soon undergo a series of pressure and stress tests at NASA's Marshall Space Flight
Center in Huntsville, Ala.
1999 September 10
Major progress was achieved with the Extended Range checkout. All technical issues
having been resolved, a Combined Systems Test was completed on this date.
1999 September 11
The hot-fire of the X-33 aerospike engine is scheduled for this date, 11 September,
at NASA's Stennis Space Center. (The scheduled test firing did not take place. A
hydrogen leak and subsequent fire occurred on the engine stand facility. Damage was
minimal.) In addition, the test readiness review for X-33 liquid hydrogen tank no.
2 was completed at Marshall Space Flight Center on 30 August, with an approval to
continue with the tank tests. A partial liquid nitrogen fill of the tank was completed
on 7 September. Meanwhile, liquid hydrogen tank no. 1 has been completed, and is
awaiting transport aboard the Super Guppy.
A local ER-2 (Extended Range) flight was performed on this date. This flight
provided data necessary for validating the X-33 Extended Range.
1999 September 15
The final ER-2 flight was completed on this date between Dugway and Dryden. This
and the previous September 11 flight provided data necessary for validating the X-33
1999 September 22
The X-33 Quarterly Review was held at Marshall Space Flight Center. No new issues
arose. Meanwhile, construction of the vehicle continued. The port and starboard flex
lines have been mated to the liquid oxygen tank. Bracket connection and leak checks
are in progress. Connection of the flex lines to the downcomer was scheduled for
this week. The GPS antennas passed qualification. Installation on the thrust structure
continued. Plumbing on the forward ballast bulkhead is complete, though without insulation.
The remaining two elevons were received from B.F. Goodrich, and they will be shipped
to Oceaneering. This will constitute the full set of flight controls workable for
tile and blanket installation. The liquid hydrogen tanks continue to be troublesome.
Tank no. 2 is undergoing repairs for leakage. The sealant liner on the outside longerons
is delaminating. A borescope will be used next week to inspect the inside liners.
1999 September 25
Hot fire testing of aerospike engine no. 1 did not occur today, because an EMA
controller unit failed. Moreover, a replacement unit has a noise problem.
1999 September 28
NASA issued a press release updating progress on the X-33 vehicle. Items covered
included preparations for testing the aerospike engines and the liquid hydrogen tanks,
testing of the launch umbilicals (which connect the X-33 to the cryogenic gas, power,
and computer lines while it sits on the launch pad) at NASA Kennedy Space Center,
installation of the vehicle's two 3-foot by 4-foot aluminum interface panels on the
aft section (accomplished in August) and two 15-foot-tall carbon steel tunnels that
will house the interface panels, completion of about 90 percent of the X-33's software,
installation of the avionics bay, and testing of a duplicate liquid oxygen tank at
Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center.
1999 October 1
Progress on the X-33 continues. Tank #2 was tested with liquid hydrogen. The
tank was filled to 100% flight load and pressurized to 20 psi. The test was terminated
early by the facility hydrogen leak detector sensors. Leaks are in process of being
Twenty-seven boxes of TPS panels have been delivered to date. This equates to
648 panels (52%) out of a total 0f 1241.
Engine #1 completed its chill tests. This was the second attempt at chilldown
after fixing the facility hydrogen leak that occurred on the first attempt. The first
turn-on for the ignition system is scheduled for this week.
Both vertical stabilizers are structurally complete. The right rudder is complete
and installed on the vertical stabilizer and the left will be completed and installed
this week. FADS plumbing on the forward ballast bulkhead are complete, less insulation.
The GPS antennas have passed qualification.
1999 October 15
Aerospike Engine #1 successfully completed its second ignition today. The third
test is scheduled for next week.
Repair of liquid hydrogen tank #2 was completed this week. 34 major hydrogen
leaks were identified while pressurizing the tank to 20 PSI with liquid hydrogen
and during subsequent helium tests. Two low-pressure helium leak checks indicated
that all leaks have been sealed. Lockheed Martin is testing woven "Y" components
to determine the cause of the liner delamination on the flight tank. The Skunk Works
is concerned that the liner may again have problems when testing resumes week. Meanwhile,
tank #1 was delivered to the Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, today.
Installation of the Oceaneering thermal protection system tiles continues. The
righthand body flap now has approximately 26 tiles bonded down, while the lefthand
body flap is being prepared. The LOX area metallic TPS panels have been put in place
for demonstration purposes. They will be removed to allow access for functional installations
to be completed.
1999 October 29
Testing of the X-33 aerospike engines continued. Aerospike Engine No. 1 completed
its 5.0-second duration tests and reached 80% power level. LOX injector post damage
was discovered on 12 out of 3300 posts. This damage was repaired, and the post shutdown
purge was increased to prevent LOX cooling and residual burning. The next test is
scheduled to be a closed loop burn of over 20 seconds. Meanwhile, components of Aerospike
Engine No. 2 were shipped to NASA Stennis, where buildup will start in the shuttle
engine assembly building.
Liquid Hydrogen Tank #2 returned to testing at Marshall Space Flight Center the
end of this week. Tank testing was delayed by the discovery of old ordnance when
a water line was excavated for repair near the test stand being used. Tank tests
on the subscale tank and woven "Y" components continue to test the current
sealant. Ambient leak tests using gaseous helium have indicated that all leak areas
have been repaired. On Tank #1, laser tracking of the tank and reference points to
index all doubler templates has been completed. Lobe skins 2, 3, and 4 have been
marked with doubler peripheries with Mylar templates. Lobe 1 had some residual engineering
problems, which have been resolved.
The X-33 team is working toward powering up the vehicle on 23 November. The first
of two low voltages PCAs arrived from Allied Signal, and the second is due to leave
Toronto this week. The software for powering up the vehicle is going through test
and integration. None of the recorded discrepancies appear to be significant.
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center issued a Media Advisory reporting
that: "Damage was discovered Wednesday [November 3] evening to one wall of the
X-33's composite liquid hydrogen tank currently undergoing cryogenic and structural
loads testing at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The damage
was discovered at "approximately 6:45 p.m. CST while viewing the tank over video
monitors, approximately two hours after the completion of a test cycle which appeared
to be nominal." This was the fifth test being conducted on the tank. No one
was hurt during the tank failure.
According to one report, the outer skin and honeycomb center apparently pulled
away from the inner lining. Gene Austin, NASA's X-33 Program Manager, and his Lockheed
Martin Skunk Works counterpart, Cleon Lacefield, went to Marshall late today (4 November)
to survey the problem.
Lockheed may move to use an aluminum lithium tank design for the X-33. The schedule
impacts will be addressed in the upcoming weeks. Already, even before this current
damage occurred, program members were considering delaying the first X-33 flight,
which is scheduled for July 2000. Dealing with the damaged composite tank may push
the date of first flight into 2001.
1999 November 8
At today's meeting of Senior Staff and Center Directors held at NASA Headquarters,
Ms. Griner of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) reported that: "The X-33
H2 [hydrogen] tank test team has been established and will be cochaired by MSFC and
Lockheed since X-33 is a cooperative agreement."
NASA and Lockheed have set up a composite liquid hydrogen tank test failure investigation
team. The team is responsible for finding the failure mechanism of the composite
tank and consists of both NASA and Lockheed personnel. Both NASA and Lockheed Martin
Skunk Works have reaffirmed their commitments to the X-33 program. The Skunk Works
wants to understand the tank failure before making any decisions on an alternate
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Ca), Chairman of the House Space & Aeronautics
Subcommittee, issued a statement on the damaged X-33 liquid hydrogen tank. "Saddened
to hear" of the damage, Rohrabacher was "less hopeful about NASA's space
transportation development efforts overall." "NASA's record of success
has been poor by any measure," he stated. Rohrabacher vowed that, "When
the 106th Congress returns for its second session, I will work closely with my colleagues
from both parties in the House and Senate to pursue whatever bold ideas, painful
reforms, and effective investments may be required to achieve our goals for American
leadership in space transportation."
1999 November 11
Aerospike Engine #1 successfully completed a 10-second hot fire late today. The
engine team is planning an 18-second hot fire late next week. That test will start
with an open loop control system and transition to a closed loop control system.
NASA announced the names of those making up the composite liquid hydrogen tank
test failure investigation team. Leading the team will be Bob Goetz, senior advisor
and former vice president of engineering for Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, and Bob
Ryan, retired deputy director of the Structures and Dynamics Laboratory at the Marshall
Space Flight Center. The NASA Media Advisory stated that other team members will
be named shortly. [Bob Goetz requested that Paul Poitras (Lockheed Martin Materials
Division Manager) and Bob Cuccias (Lockheed Martin Structures Division Manager) support
the team, which has been coordinated with Mark Miller.] The investigation is expected
to take four to six weeks. Parts of the failed composite liquid hydrogen tank were
fabricated by Alliant TechSystems in Clearfield, Utah, and Lockheed Martin Skunk
Works. A joint Lockheed Martin-Alliant team in Sunnyvale, Calif., completed the tank
assembly. In the words of the NASA Media Advisory issued on this date: "Impact
of the damage to the X-33 program is unknown at this time."
1999 November 17
In reporting on the damaged X-33 liquid hydrogen tank, Aerospace Daily
speculated today that: "Now that the cause of the tank failure won't be fully
understood until late this year, and repairs or rework to follow that before qualification
testing can resume, it appears less likely than ever that the X-33 will be able to
fly next year." NASA, however, states that the exact impact on the X-33 program
schedule remains undetermined. [A joint Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space and Lockheed
Skunk Works team has prepared a preliminary evaluation of the option to replace the
composite hydrogen tanks with aluminum tanks. The schedule for this effort is 18
months, including testing. This plan will be briefed to Dr. Rogacki, Director of
Space Transportation at Marshall Space Flight Center, this week.]
1999 November 22
Another hot-fire test of the X-33 linear aerospike engine took place at NASA'S
Stennis Space Center today. The engine was pushed to 75% of full power during the
18-second closed-loop test.
1999 December 3
The composite liquid hydrogen tank test failure investigation team reconvened
this week at NASA's Marshall Test Flight Center. A helium permeation test is scheduled
on the lobes. The test consists of injecting 10-psi helium into one of the three
pressure ports on each lobe to measure any migration through the honeycomb between
the inner and outer skin panels. This is an attempt to understand the pressures measured
in each of the lobes during the initial test series prior to the incident. Also the
manhole covers will be removed from the top and bottom of the tank for visual inspection
inside the tank.
1999 December 8
Progress on X-33 vehicle construction continues. Testing with the power on is
continuing with software installed in both the vehicle and the portable operation
control center. Current efforts are focused on bringing up the vehicle health monitoring
computers. When these are operational, the basic foundation of avionics will be in
place and will be ready for all other system checkouts to be run.
In addition, the righthand main landing gear wheel well structure and the associated
aft righthand lower thermal protection system substructure have been mated in the
main assembly tool. This is the first time that structure subassembled in three different
tools came together with very minor problems. The Skunk Works also has installed
three lower skins permanently on the righthand canted fin. When all skins (with the
exception of the actuator bays) are installed, the Skunk Works will install the metallic
thermal protection system panels on the lower (or windward) side of the canted fin.
Installation of the righthand skin should be completed this week.
1999 December 15
At the request of the Lockheed Martin Board of Directors, the Skunk Works formed
a combined technical Red Team to review both X-33 and VentureStar in late January
2000. Dr. Bill Ballhaus has agreed to lead the team. The team will be comprised of
chief engineers from the government, Lockheed Martin, and venture contractors. The
team will examine the technical viability and various issues involved with the X-33
Recovery Plan and will provide a SSTO credibility check for the VentureStar design.
As for the Recovery Plan itself, Skunk Works X-33 officials met with their NASA
counterparts last week. NASA agreed to give the Skunk Works written authorization
to continue on with the design of the metallic (aluminum-lithium alloy) tanks this
week. They also agreed to increase the program obligated funding level by $32M.
In addition, a three-man Skunk Works team went to Huntsville to assist NASA in
extracting the hydrogen tank from the test fixture, which was successfully completed
on Saturday, December 11. The investigation team has indicated that they may want
some additional support to remove all or a portion of the failed lobe for analysis.
The Skunk Works removed two actuator controllers from valve assemblies supplied
by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space division. These in turn were shipped to Stennis
to allow aerospike engine testing to continue. The controllers have proved unreliable,
and Rocketdyne has had failures of the units allocated to them plus their spares.
The controllers were supplied by Allied Signal, which is working with their supplier
to remedy the situation.
1999 December 16
Following today's meeting between NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and Vance Coffman,
Lockheed Chairman of the Board, NASA gave the Skunk Works approval to implement their
X-33 recovery plan. Marshall Space Flight Center gave Lockheed written authorization
to continue with the design of the metallic liquid hydrogen tanks, and appears to
have agreed to increase the X-33 program obligated funding level by $32 million.
Engineers at NASA's Stennis Space Center ran the Rocketdyne XRS-2000 X-33 to
full power for the first time today, Saturday, hitting 100% thrust in an 18-second-long
hot-fire test at Stennis' A-1 test facility. Engine performance was deemed "satisfactory"
throughout the test, based on preliminary data. Minor pinhole-sized erosion discovered
on the interior wall of one of the engine's 20 thrust cells was considered within
bounds for development testing and was not believed to be a block to additional hot-fire
tests. The thrust cells direct the engine's exhaust onto actively cooled "ramps"
that allow the plume to expand to the optimum angle for its altitude during ascent.
X-33 engine testing will resume early next year.