Lockheed Martin has agreed to commit more funds to the X-33 programme, provided NASA allocates new funds to complete the reusable launch vehicle (RLV) technology demonstrator. The two parties have been locked in negotiations since the failure of a composite fuel tank jeopardised completion of the programme.

"Lockheed Martin has made a commitment to additional funding," says Dain Hancock, president of the US company's Aeronautics unit. "The negotiations continue to progress," he says.

The company has been trying to persuade NASA to advance progress payments tied to milestones such as first flight to pay for manufacture of a replacement aluminium fuel tank. Hancock describes the extra funding expected from NASA as "new money", however.

The X-33's composite liquid hydrogen tank failed during ground testing late last year. The option of repairing the tank has been rejected, Hancock says, and a replacement aluminium tank has been designed. At the time the tank failed, Lockheed Martin had already decided to use an aluminium fuel tank in its planned VentureStar full-scale RLV.

Because of the delay over agreeing a way forward with the programme, manufacture of the replacement tank has yet to begin. As a result, the first flight of the X-33 has been pushed back to 2004, he says.

Source: Flight International