Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
DC-X Fact Sheet

Delta Clipper-Experimental Fact SheetOffice of External Affairs
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
Washington, D.C. 20301-7100
(703) 695-8743

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's Single Stage Rocket Technology (SSRT) program is chartered to demonstrate the practicality, reliability, operability and cost efficiency of a fully reusable, rapid turnaround single stage rocket, with the ultimate goal of aircraft-like operations of reusable launch vehicles (RLVs).

The program is focused on using existing technologies and systems to demonstrate the feasibility of building both suborbital and orbital RLVs which are able to fly into space, return to the launch site, and be serviced and ready for the next mission within three days. Such a suborbital RLV could potentially support many of BMDO's planned suborbital system tests and experiments.

As part of the program, BMDO has built an experimental suborbital launch vehicle, officially designated the SX-1 (Spaceplane Experimental), but known as the DC-X (Delta Clipper-Experimental). Flight testing is scheduled to be conducted in mid 1993 at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. The DC-X is designed to take off vertically and return to land in the same attitude. The DC-X is not designed as an operational vehicle capable of achieving orbital flight. Its purpose is to test the feasibility of both suborbital and orbital RLVs.


The SSRT program consists of three phases. Phase I began in August 1990 and consisted of a $12 million design and risk reduction competition. At that time, the program was focused on multiple single stage-to-orbit concepts which were found to be potentially viable, including vertical take off and landing (VTOL), horizontal takeoff and landing (HTOL) and vertical takeoff and horizontal landing (VTHL) configurations. qwe

Following completion of Phase I, a two-year $60 million Phase II contract was competitively awarded to McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, Huntington Beach, Calif., in August 1991.

The program was subsequently restructured and focused on building the DC-X and enabling suborbital RLVs for potential use by BMDO. The DC-X design emphasizes simplified ground and flight operations, vehicle maintenance, rapid turnaround, and operational characteristics that are also relevant to future orbital vehicles. For example, the highly automated control center for this system is manned by only three people: two for flight operations and one for ground operations and servicing.

Successful completion of the DC-X testing in mid 1993 will form the basis for a Phase III "go/no go" decision by the Department of Defense to develop a follow-on Advanced Technology Demonstrator for support of flight tests and experiments. If a decision is made to proceed with Phase III, the program will be transferred to another agency.


Since August 1991, BMDO and McDonnell Douglas have been proceeding with the design and fabrication of the DC-X as well as the planning activities for the vehicle system and subsystem ground and flight tests.

A systems ground test facility has been activated at NASA's White Sands Test Facility (WSTF), and a launch and recovery site at WSMR. The completed DC-X vehicle is undergoing testing on a modified propulsion test stand at the WSTF prior to flight testing at WSMR. Maintenance and ground support techniques required for the flight test phase of the program will be tested, evaluated and refined at WSTF.

The aircraft-like flight test program, planned to start in mid 1993, will begin with low altitude hover flights, gradually increasing in altitude and duration, and lead to suborbital flights to approximately 18,000 feet.

Throughout the DC-X ground and flight test series, demonstration of low cost operations, vehicle operability, reliability, supportability and maintainability directly linked to follow-on operational vehicles are the prime factors for determining program success.

Program Management

Program Manager for the SSRT Program is Major Jess Sponable, U.S. Air Force. The prime contractor is McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, Huntington Beach, Calif. Subcontractors include the following: Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach, Calif.; McDonnell Douglas Aerospace East and McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratories, St. Louis, Mo.; Aerojet Propulsion Division, Sacramento, Calif.; Allied Signal Aerospace Co., Torrance, Calif.; Chicago Bridge and Iron Services, Inc., Oak Brook, Ill.; Deutsche Aerospace, Munich, Germany; General Connector, San Fernando, Calif; Harris Corp., Rockledge, Fla.; Honeywell Clearwater, Fla.; Integrated Systems, Santa Clara, Calif.; Martin Marietta, Denver, Colo.; Pratt and Whitney Government Engines and Space Division, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Process Fabrication, Inc., Santa Fe Springs, Calif.; Scaled Composites, Mojave, Calif.; and SpaceGuild, San Carlos, Calif. (Current as of April 1993)

DC-X Specifications

40 feet high, 13 1/3feet at base, conical shape.
Weight Empty: 20,000lbs.
With full load of propellants: 41,600 lbs.
Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
Four RL-lOA5 rocket engines, each generating 13,500 lbs thrust. Each engine throttleable from 30% to lOO%. Each gimbals +/-8 degrees.
Reaction Controls
Four 440-lb thrust gaseous oxygen, gaseous hydrogen thrusters.
Guidance, Navigation and Control Avionics
Advanced 32 bit, 4.5 mips computer.
F-15 Navigation System with ring laser gyros.
F/A-18 accelerometer and rate gyro package.
Global Positioning Satellite P(Y) code receiver.
Digital data telemetry system.
Radar altimeter.
Hydraulic System
Standard hydraulic aircraft-type system to drive vehicle's four aerodynamic flaps and eight engine gimbal actuators (two per engine).
Construction MaterialsAeroshell and base heat shield: Graphite Epoxy composite with special silicone-based thermal protection coating.
Main propellant tanks: 2219 alloy aluminum
Main structural supports: aluminum
Landing gear: steel and titanium

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