NASA Exercises X-34 Contract Option For 25 Test Flights

December 18, 1998

NASA has exercised an option in its X-34 contract with Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., for 25 additional test flights during a 12-month period beginning immediately after the initial contract is complete. The option is valued at more than $10 million, with Government organizations performing an additional $4.7 million in work.

By exercising the flight test option for X-34, NASA has initiated a detailed flight test planning process with Orbital Sciences Corporation to define specifics for each mission in the X-34 flight test program. One of the key aspects of this planning process will be establishing acceptable agreements between the NASA/Orbital team and the ranges where the flights will be conducted for both safe and cost-effective operations.

Flights under the option are planned to be conducted initially at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where the first two test flights will be conducted under the basic contract. This contract was signed in August 1996 to design, build and test-fly the X-34, a small, reusable technology demonstrator vehicle.

Once the X-34 has demonstrated safe and reliable performance at White Sands, the project then plans to move to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a significant number of test flights to complete the test series. "We want to demonstrate that the vehicle can operate at a low cost (approximately $500,000 per flight) at an operational range, and flights at Kennedy Space Center on the Eastern Range would give us the opportunity to do that," said X-34 project manager Mike Allen of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

These test flights of the X-34 will demonstrate low-cost reusability, autonomous landing, operations in subsonic travel through inclement weather, safe abort conditions, and landing in 20-knot cross winds. The test series is expected to begin in early 2000, with the flights at Kennedy Space Center potentially starting later that year. The vehicle will initially operate at speeds of Mach 2.5 (two-and-one-half times the speed of sound), gradually increasing its speed to Mach 8 and reaching an altitude of 250,000 feet.

The X-34 will fly within the air space of the test range at White Sands Missile Range. Operations at Kennedy Space Center would call for Orbital Sciences Corp. L-1011 carrier aircraft to take off from the Shuttle Landing Facility, fly over the Atlantic Ocean, and release the X-34. The X-34's newly developed Fastrac engine would ignite and power the vehicle 450 nautical miles back to the Shuttle Landing Facility in 15 minutes.

Total value of the X-34 contract, including the flight test option, now is $85 million, with an additional $16.7 million committed to direct support of X-34 by NASA Centers and other government agencies.

The X-34 is a single-engine, winged rocket, 58.3 feet long, 27.7 feet wide at wing tip and 11.5 feet tall from the bottom of the fuselage to the top of the tail.

The X-34 is part of NASA's Space Transportation Program, intended to dramatically reduce the cost of access to space.
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NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

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