WASHINGTON (AP) A new, winged, reusable rocket launched from an airplane could begin carrying sattelites into orbit in about three years.
The rocket booster, called the X-34, is being developed by American Space Lines, a new company owned jointly by Rockwell International Inc. of Downey, Calif., and Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.
Company officials said Thursday the new rocket booster will be able to deliver satellite payloads of up to 2,500 pounds to low Earth orbit by 1998.
Developing the X-34 is part of a new effort by industry and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to build new rocket booster designs that can put small satellites into orbit while reducing the cost of space travel.
Launching satellites on the X-34 is expected to cost only about a third of the flight cost for the current boosters, officials said.
Orbital and Rockwell officials said their companies are spending about $100 million to develop the X-34 and NASA will contribute $70 million in additional funding, plus give technical assistance from six of the agency's research centers.
According to company officials, in a typical mission, the X-34, carrying a satellite payload in its cargo bay, would be carried up to about 40,000 feet by either an OSC L-1011 airplane, or by a NASA 747.
After being released by the carrier plane, the X-34 will ignite liquid-fueled rocket engines that will accelerate the craft and its payload to more than 9,000 mph. At an altitude above the atmosphere, the payload will separate and another rocket will then drill the satellite on up to its orbital destination.
The unmanned X-34, gliding unpowered from its high altitude, will be guided remotely to a landing at an airport. The booster then could be reused for later launches.
Officials said that a technical crew of 15 people will need only three weeks to refurbish the X-34 and prepare it for a new mission.
EDITOR (DMA): I have included the editorial notes that follow from the sources of this articles since they added interesting anecdotal information about OSC. In other words, "ED" below is someone else...
ED NOTE: I was at the unveiling of the X-34 at OSC yesterday. When we came out of the press briefing, they had a full scale mock-up towed in front of the building. Quite cool up front - about the size of a large Lear Jet. Curious propulsion note: on the left side of the fuselage, just forward of the wing, is an access panel labeled "WARP DRIVE ACCESS". Really.
Note from Dave: Warp Drive is not surprising. When OSC's CEO last year was asked why he chose STARGAZER as the name for the L-1011 launch aircraft for Pegasus, he said because it was the name of Capt. Piccard's first command.
Ya gotta love the guy.............