THE FUTURE OF THE NASA/McDonnell Douglas (MDC) experimental vertical-take-off-and-landing rocket programme is in doubt after the crash-landing of the Clipper Graham vehicle at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on 31 July.

The investigation will focus on the actuation system for the four-legged landing gear. One of the legs failed to deploy as the Clipper Graham was descending through 200ft (60m) and, as the engines were shut down on landing, the rocket tipped on its side and burst into flames.

MDC says that it is "-too early to tell" what effect the accident will have on the future of its experimental launch vehicle programme, which was dealt a blow earlier this year with the selection of a Lockheed Martin lifting-body design for NASA's X-33 Shuttle-replacement competition. The company had been discussing with NASA a further series of four test flights.

The crash occurred at the end of the fourth flight in a test series which began in May.

A series of manoeuvres had been completed, including an arc-like sweeping motion from a near-upright position, before descending base-first from the 4,100ft maximum altitude.

The Clipper Graham was an upgraded version of the Delta Clipper Experimental (DC-X).

Source: Flight International