NASA decides programme does not support its goals, although it will remain involved as technical consultant
Boeing's X-37 programme to demonstrate technology for a reusable spaceplane has been passed from NASA to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The future unmanned demonstrator has been under review since NASA reorganised around space exploration earlier this year.
The new Office of Exploration Systems determined that the X-37 "did not directly support NASA's goals" for exploration and it was "reprioritised", says the US space agency. "We found a partner interested in the technology. It is taking over the programme." NASA will continue to be involved as a technical consultant.
DARPA is taking over the approach and landing test vehicle (ALTV) nearing completion at Boeing Phantom Works. Completion of a second X-37, the planned long-duration orbital vehicle (LDOV), is on hold, but NASA says it will continue technology work. The ALTV is designed to demonstrate autonomous landings.
NASA had planned a series of five drop tests of the unpowered ALTV from its Boeing B-52 next year. The space agency says Scaled Composites has been selected to perform the drop tests early next year, but cannot confirm reports that Scaled's White Knight aircraft, mother ship for the SpaceShipOne manned suborbital vehicle, will be used.
Boeing signed a $173 million co-operative agreement with NASA and the US Air Force in 1999 to develop the first X-vehicle capable of on-orbit operation. The USAF pulled out of the X-37 programme and a revised, $301 million agreement was signed with NASA in 2001 covering atmospheric flight tests. The contract also initiated design of the orbital vehicle, then scheduled for launch in 2006.
The powered LDOV was to be launched by a Delta II rocket, and then operate in orbit for up to 270 days before re-entering and landing autonomously. The orbital vehicle was intended to demonstrate technology for thermal protection, propulsion, avionics and other systems on a reusable spaceplane.
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC
Source: Flight International